The term ‘fash­ion icon’ is both overused and of­ten mis­used, but if there’s any­one who de­serves the ti­tle it’s Iris Apfel. Schön! sits down with the 94-year-old style sen­sa­tion.

Schon! - - Becoming Iris - Words / Huma Hu­mayun Pho­tog­ra­phy / Sergi Jasanada Pho­tog­ra­phy As­sis­tant / Álex Gal­lego Spe­cial Thanks to 080 Barcelona Fash­ion & Man­darin Ori­en­tal Barcelona

Even if you don’t know her name (where have you been, by the way?) you will recog­nise her im­age, with her ex­u­ber­ant com­bi­na­tion of colour and print, big and bold jew­ellery and sig­na­ture owl like spec­ta­cles. This in­di­vid­u­al­ity and flair has earned Mrs Apfel the moniker of Rara Avis or Rare Bird of Fash­ion. We meet the na­tive New Yorker, in­te­rior and ac­ces­sories de­signer and col­lec­tor ex­traor­di­naire at 080 Barcelona Fash­ion, for the screen­ing of a fea­ture length film by late and great doc­u­men­tary di­rec­tor Al­bert Maysles, en­ti­tled, quite sim­ply, Iris.

Filmed in­ter­mit­tently over a pe­riod of four years, Iris al­most didn’t hap­pen. When first ap­proached about the pro­ject, Apfel turned it down im­me­di­ately. “I was so wor­ried that they would try to por­tray me as some empty headed fash­ion­ista,” she ex­plains. “I get crazy when peo­ple think I spend my life get­ting dressed.” But then, friends ex­plained the enor­mous caché of work­ing with Maysles. Sadly, the di­rec­tor died shortly af­ter com­plet­ing Iris, but left us with a wor­thy fi­nale to his al­ready im­pres­sive body of work – a film that is at once fas­ci­nat­ing, funny (Apfel is the queen of one-lin­ers) and in­cred­i­bly touch­ing.

Un­scripted and un­re­hearsed, Iris sim­ply fol­lows Apfel in her still very ac­tive day to day life, whether mak­ing tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances, teach­ing fash­ion stu­dents or spend­ing time with charm­ing hus­band Carl (who cel­e­brated his 100th birth­day dur­ing film­ing) in their ec­cen­tric and eclec­tic Man­hat­tan apart­ment. It also gives an in­sight into her shop­ping meth­ods, as she hap­pily hag­gles her way around mar­kets and African cloth­ing stores. “Be­ing well dressed and hav­ing style has noth­ing to do with spend­ing money,” she states. “Some­times, the peo­ple who spend the most look the worst.”

Apfel’s fas­ci­na­tion with fash­ion be­gan early. At 11, she bought the first item in her jew­ellery col­lec­tion for the grand sum of 65 cents – a piece she still owns. She didn’t have many fash­ion icons – with the ex­cep­tion of Pauline de Roth­schild and Mil­li­cent Rogers, who would be amongst her dream din­ner party guests – but her mother, who dressed like the Duchess of Wind­sor and “wor­shipped at the al­tar of ac­ces­sories”, taught her the value of a lit­tle black dress. Her fa­ther was “very much his own man, both in­tel­lec­tual and street smart. Com­mon sense doesn’t seem very com­mon these days.” As a child, Apfel was al­lowed to ex­press her­self, paint­ing her bed­room walls black and mak­ing slip cov­ers out of menswear fab­rics. She was one of the first girls to wear jeans (teamed with a “crisp white shirt and ging­ham head­scarf ”) when it was still scan­dalous. The now iconic over­sized spec­ta­cles were col­lected and worn with­out lenses long be­fore she needed glasses. Thus be­gan a sig­na­ture style and the start of a cre­ative ca­reer. Hav­ing worked in fash­ion, Apfel suc­cess­fully moved on to in­te­rior de­sign, re­dec­o­rat­ing the homes of Amer­ica’s finest, in­clud­ing the White House through sev­eral pres­i­den­cies, from Kennedy to Clin­ton. Although not al­lowed to dis­cuss this in de­tail (there is a price­less mo­ment in Iris when she shushes Carl on the brink of spilling the beans on Jackie Kennedy), Apfel can re­veal that “The only one who got re­ally in­volved was Mrs Nixon. She would come to my show­room with the Se­cret Ser­vice, and ev­ery­body else. She didn’t know much about it and I never had the heart to tell her. She would go back to the White House with bags of fab­ric and the next morn­ing she would call up very tear­fully and say, ‘Oh, Mrs Apfel, please bring what’s right and come for lunch on Thurs­day.’ But no, if the pres­i­dents and their wives had in­put, it would be some kooky look­ing house! The idea that Mrs Kennedy did the White House is not ex­actly true. She was a very great im­age maker for her­self.”

Not able to find the his­tor­i­cal fab­rics needed for her in­te­rior de­signs, Apfel started Old World Weavers with Carl, whom she had mar­ried in 1948. The textile busi­ness took off and took them all over the globe. De­spite this suc­cess, it was only in 2005 – when The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art dis­played her re­mark­able cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories col­lec­tion – that the oc­to­ge­nar­ian was thrown into the lime­light. Since then, she has been the sub­ject of a cof­fee ta­ble book, de­signed sell-out jew­ellery col­lec­tions and re­ceived procla­ma­tions in both New York and Har­lem.

Apfel is amused by her fash­ion icon sta­tus. “I’m not do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ently than I did for the last 70 years,” she says. “It’s kind of weird, but I can’t say that I don’t like it.” On the con­trary, at 94, she is as busy as ever, work­ing on a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Neiman Mar­cus and a new book due out in De­cem­ber. “I feel so lucky and blessed that this has hap­pened to me in my dotage,” she laughs. “It’s much bet­ter than be­ing left out to pas­ture. I wouldn’t do very well, be­cause I don’t know how to moo!”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.