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Inspiring Life Lessons from the Legendary Iris Apfel

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At an age when when most people would be long retired (she’s 94!), the unstoppable force that is Iris can’t be contained. The self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” became known for her one-of-kind, muse-worthy style, and is the subject of the documentary, Iris, by Albert Maysles, which is now available on demand! So lauded is her fashion point of view, the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated it in the 2005 exhibition “Rara Avis.” Since then, Iris has become synonymous with the world of fashion.

But beyond haute couture, Iris was a decorator and textile designer for the better part of her career. In 1950 she and her husband, Carl, opened Old World Weavers, a textile firm they ran until 1992, servicing everyone from Emily Post to Dorothy Draper. Iris also was responsible for many White House restorations, including those of the Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton administrations.

Ever curious, she globe-trotted her way through life, living from one experience to the next, and obsessively collecting along the way. As she told us, “My travels were fairly extensive. I feel very grateful I had the unusual opportunity of seeing the end of the Old World.”

Even if you don’t know who she is, or just know her as “that lady with the glasses,” chances are she’s caught your attention and you want to learn more. We spent some time with the doyenne, and here we share some amazing sound bites from the witty and irreverent personality that is Iris Apfel.

What's my style is not your style, and I don't see how you can define it. It's something that expresses who you are in your own way.

My mother knew if you bought a couple of really good architectural outfits and put your money into accessories, you could create a million different looks. She taught that to me, which I think was invaluable.

My home makes me happy because when I come there it's like being greeted silently by a lot of old friends.

To have style you have to know who you are. What you can carry, what you're comfortable with, what you can afford, what makes you happy.

You have to look in the mirror and see yourself. If it feels good, then I know it’s for me. I don’t dress to be stared at, I dress for myself.

Accessorize Like Iris!

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4 Responses to “Inspiring Life Lessons from the Legendary Iris Apfel”

  1. Augusta Kaiser says:

    My mother who recently passed away at 93, was a fashion icon, much like Iris. She was an eclectic collector both in her home, to her infinite style, and although I’ve lived with her enthusiasm for all these things, and hopefully learned a little, it’s really only now as I’m dismantling her treasures that I’ve really come to appreciate this lost art.These women are ones that we can learn from. My mom taught me too, that style has to come from within, as well as accessorize, accessorize and layer, whether being in a beautiful scarf, a few bangles ( or many) to wonderful objects d’ art, rugs, and furniture. She always chose things she loved, whether antique or new, expensive or not. But when mixed together it became unique and treasured.

  2. yoni salguero says:

    Love this Wonderful and Imaginative Lady; What a Mentor, and would Love to meet her! yoni salguero

  3. PacNW says:

    Fascinating woman! My mother had a similar style and advice to me. She held on to what she liked, and found a way to work it into our home décor. Everything had meaning. In the 50’s she painted the wall of bookcases in our living room fuchsia on the inside and Wedgwood blue on the outside. As a little kid, I would sit upside down in a hunter green velveteen rocker and look at the room like it was another world. My home today is unlike the rest of my neighbors. Every room is a rich color – no white walls or ceilings. I was advised against it when I was painting. But, interestingly, people who come here always love it, it’s warm and somewhat exotic, and so beautiful by evening light. I hope I can always live here, it would be hard to leave. I recently watched the Iris Apfel documentary. Captivating. I rarely identify with people, but her inspiration and devotion to detail described so much of how I think and work. And her obvious love for her husband charmed me.

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