Musings from a Fashion Icon

Inspiration From Visionary Iris Apfel

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by Sharon Mosley

Iris Apfel’s new book Accidental Icon: Musings of a Geriatric Starlet is not really an accident. The 96-year-young larger than life personality has a lot to say in her latest reflections, complete with photographs and illustrations of life as an interior designer, textile expert and fashion influencer. The visionary has had a documentary made about her, has been the face of MAC cosmetics and has been the subject of several museum exhibitions of her clothing and accessories. With her signature oversized glasses, chunky jewelry, colorful clothes and furs, she is the epitome of “cool” ...and she has lots to say about her amazing experiences.

If you’re a lover of all things fashion, you’ll want a copy of this book to read and re-read. Or give as the perfect Mother’s Day gift that moms of all ages will appreciate. Here are just a few of Apfel’s most inspirational musings from the book:

Always stay engaged. “You have to be interested to be interesting.” Apfel and Carl, her husband of 68 years, explored the world to find unique fabrics for their textile business, Old World Weavers, and meeting fascinating people everywhere. “Having a sense of wonder, a sense of humor, and a sense of curiosity -- these are my tonic. They keep you young, childlike, open to new people and things, ready for another adventure.”

Build a wardrobe one piece at a time. “I buy clothing to wear it, not collect it. I’m always asked about my ‘favorite’ this or ‘favorite’ that. I hate that question! If I like something, I just like it. It’s a gut feeling.” Apfel has acquired her unusual wardrobe beginning in the ‘50s, when she toured the world for her textile business and visited designer salons, snapping up runway castoffs. She also made a habit of scouring flea markets in Europe, collecting vintage ecclesiastical garments and silver jewelry. “If a bracelet is fantastic and it’s only five dollars, all the better,” she says.

Dress for yourself and no one else. “I never tried to fit in,” says Apfel. “I don’t dress to be stared at; I dress for myself. When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else,” says the ageless style star, who disdains social media, cell phones and selfie sticks. “When people ask if they can send me an email, I say, ‘No darling. You can’t do that. Send a pigeon. All I have is a quill and candle.”

Forget the word “minimalist.” Apfel’s philosophy is simple: “More is more and less is a bore.” She abhors minimalism. “I like stuff,” she admits. “I like being surrounded by a lot of things that give me pleasure to look at.” She splurges on accessories and adheres to her mother’s advice. “She always said that if you invest in a few well-made classic pieces in good fabrics—like a little black dress—and put your money into accessories, you’ll have a million different outfits.”  

Attitude is everything. “You have to know yourself before you can find your own style,” says Apfel. “You can learn to be fashionable. You can become fashionable...but as for style...either you got it or you ain’t. It’s not what you wear but how you wear it. Your style has to come from you. Style cannot be bought or learned—it’s in your DNA. You can get help to bring it out; you can learn how to be better dressed, but in the end, style is inherent.”

The world and our wardrobes need more color! “Let’s face it, life can be dull, you might as well have a little fun with color when you dress,” touts Apfel, whose wardrobe has been compared to the work of Henri Matisse, the French artist whose canvases were filled with bright blocks of abstract colors. Apfel also swears by red lipstick -- one of her colorful trademarks. And what does the world need less of? Flip-flops, sweatpants, leggings, too-tight jeans and short shorts.  According to Apfel, “everybody looks like a mess, like they’re on their way to a shower bath or who knows where.” But “if your hair is done properly and you’re wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything.”

Check out the latest news and designs from Iris Apfel at the pop-up shop at Bergdorf Goodman and her Rara Avis collection of jewelry and clothes at the Home Shopping Network and of course, her book.

Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association.

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