The Untold Truth Of Iris Apfel09/08/2021
By Meg Walters/Sept. 8, 2021 11:42 am EDT
There are few figures in the fashion world who are quite as iconic as Iris Apfel. With her memorable shock of white hair, her famous thick, round, black glasses, and her refreshingly bold and unique sense of style, it’s easy to see why Apfel remains a leading figure in fashion, even in 2021, at 100 years old.
Throughout her fascinating career, Apfel and her partner ran a textile company called Old World Weavers. She also worked as the stylist for nine American presidents. After retiring in 1992, Apfel’s fame only grew. She became the subject of museum exhibits, was the face of a campaign for high-end cosmetic company MAC, and graced the covers of numerous magazines. In 2014, she was even the subject of a documentary by Albert Maysles.
As a tastemaker in the fashion world, Apfel has been hugely influential for decades. And her personal life has been pretty fascinating, too. Want to learn more about this fashion legend? Here is the untold truth of Iris Apfel.
Iris Apfel was inspired by her mother's chic sense of style from an early age
Iris Apfel grew up during the Great Depression, when many families had few resources. Nevertheless, Apfel’s mother managed to dress extremely well. “She was exceedingly chic,” Apfel told The Cut. Apfel watched her mother and learned a lot about style from her. One important lesson, Apfel explained, was the importance of the accessory. “She showed me that if you bought, for example, a simple little black dress, by changing the accessories, which are so transformative, you could make dozens of outfits out of the same basic piece.”
Apfel told Interviews with Icons that her mother actually worked in the fashion industry herself. Apparently, she owned a small boutique. And, as Apfel explained to Tatler, her mother’s influence remained an important part of her sense of style as she got older. In fact, the only two people who Apfel asked for fashion opinions were her husband and her mother. No wonder Apfel has such a wonderful understanding of style — she’s been surrounded by it since she was young.
For Iris Apfel, great style is all about comfort
While many people believe that great fashion isn’t always comfortable, Iris Apfel is of a different opinion. As she told The Zoe Report in 2019, she actually believes that one of the fundamentals of good style is comfort. “If you’re not comfortable, you can’t look well,” she said. She went on, “The clothes shouldn’t wear you. You have to wear the clothes.”
According to Apfel, when clothing is too tight or feels strange on the body, it’s usually a sign that the style is wrong for you and that you’ll look odd and awkward. “It does something to your psyche, I think,” she said.
It’s clear that Apfel practices what she preaches. In an interview with Stylist, she stated that she always preferred wearing flats to heels. And, in an interview with The Talks, she explained that on casual days, she always opts for a low-key outfit that’s comfortable.
However, she does believe in dressing appropriately for the occasion
Although Iris Apfel is a big fan of dressing comfortably, she also believes in the importance of dressing appropriately. Sometimes, she thinks that modern clothing is “too comfortable.” While being comfortable matters, according to Apfel, you should never look too laid-back. “People take advantage and begin to look sloppy, nobody pays attention to what’s appropriate anymore,” she told The Talks. For Apfel, clothing like sweatpants should only be worn in casual settings — never, for instance, at the theater. As she told The New Potato, people used to wear a black tie dress code to the theater. “Now you sit next to someone with dirty jeans and a ragged t-shirt,” she said. “That’s not right.”
In another interview with StyleCaster, Apfel brought up the modern trend for casual dressing again. When asked about her biggest pet peeve, she said simply, “The way people look these days. They look like walking rag heaps.” Clearly, Apfel thinks there’s a big difference between feeling comfortable and looking comfortable.
Iris Apfel does this to keep herself awake
We all have our idiosyncrasies, and, for Iris Apfel, it’s gum. In several interviews, her chewing habit has been noted. Clearly, she always has a pack with her.
As she once explained to The Guardian, chewing gum is actually a way for her to stay awake — after all, she is 100 years old! Of course, this habit makes it a little tricky to be glamorous. In one interview with The Daily Beast, she explained that she never knew what to do with her gum while at a professional lunch or dinner. “Years ago in school they used to put them under the desk,” she said. Of course, that’s no longer an option for her.
Apfel’s gum obsession even extends into her fashion. She famously wore a necklace made of various bits of old plastic, including, you guessed it, a chewing gum packet (via The Guardian)!
Iris Apfel's iconic glasses have been part of her look for ages
It’s pretty hard to imagine Iris Apfel without her famous thick, round glasses. As it turns out, the fashion maverick has worn the same glasses for decades — it’s no wonder they’ve become an iconic symbol of her unique style. As she told Interview Magazine, she chose the famous frames when she first needed glasses. “I thought, ‘If I was going to wear glasses, let me wear glasses!'” she said.
Apparently, she’s also collected interesting frames and wore them without lenses, or has changed the lenses to suit her eye prescription. But she always chooses big frames. People would always say to me, ‘Why are you wearing such large frames?’ And I would say, ‘The bigger to see you,'” she explained. Sounds like Apfel’s taste in eyeglasses has always been suitably eccentric, just like the rest of her clothes and accessories!
Iris Apfel doesn't get dressed up every day
Even though Iris Apfel is known for her incredible sense of style, she doesn’t actually get dressed up every single day. As she told Vanity Fair, she simply doesn’t have the time to wear elaborate outfits every day. “Usually if I’m at home, where I am now, I’m wearing a robe,” she explained. If she needs to leave the house to run errands, she throws on a pair of jeans. “I love fashion, I think it’s wonderful, but it’s not my life,” she said.
As she once told Vogue, she doesn’t like to spend too long putting outfits together. In fact, she spends “no time at all.” And, as Apfel confessed to The Zoe Report, she often wears the same outfit several days in a row, “because it’s all put together.” It sounds like Apfel is way more practical and laid-back than we realized!
The legendary designer does not aim for perfection
It would be pretty easy to describe Iris Apfel’s style as perfection — after all, she has an eye-catching, extravagant, beautiful style that perfectly matches her bold personality. However, as she explained to The Talks, perfection has actually never been her aim.
Her mother, on the other hand, had been obsessed with perfection. “She got up in the morning and she looked like she just stepped out of a Chicago Coin band box,” Apfel recalled. “She was perfect all the time.” Apparently, her mother’s style always turned heads.
For Apfel, that kind of constant perfection isn’t the goal. “I just go with the flow!” she said. Instead of working to get her outfits absolutely perfect, Apfel gets spontaneous and experiments with new colors. As she put it, “My God, I couldn’t live in a rigid world.” Clearly, Apfel’s brand of style is all about making bold choices — even if they’re a little messy from time to time.
Iris Apfel was raised to be frugal
Iris Apfel became a hugely successful businesswoman and fashion mogul. However, she wasn’t always well-off. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she explained how her upbringing in a low-income household during the Great Depression gave her a lifelong understanding of the importance of saving. As she put it, “I’m a child of the depression, so I’m very, very practical.”
When it comes to fashion, this frugality means that Apfel likes to get lots of use out of her clothes. Plus, rewearing outfits means that she gets a lot of use out of her favorite clothes. Apfel even wore her wedding dress multiple times. “I had a dress made that I could wear again,” she explained.
And, when Apfel goes shopping, she’s always on the hunt for a bargain. As she says to the owner of a clothing shop during a bartering session in the documentary “Iris,” “Sorry, I’m cheap” (via Independent).
Iris Apfel does not have any middle name (that she knows of)
Ever wondered what Iris Apfel’s middle name is? Well, it turns out, the fashion superstar may not actually have any middle name. As she told StyleCaster in 2018, “I don’t know that I ever had a middle name.”
Because Apfel didn’t have a real middle name (that she knew of), she took it upon herself to make one up. However, it seems she could never settle on one option. As a child, she apparently used a variety of different middle names that sounded “glamorous.” It sounds like Apfel’s creativity for fashion was not the only way she would express her imagination.
In the end, however, nothing stuck. “I didn’t like any of them,” she said, “so I don’t have one now,” she said. While she doesn’t have an official middle name, Apfel eventually adopted her maiden name, Barrel, as a pseudo middle name.
Iris Apfel gets color inspiration from Matisse
It’s pretty much impossible to think of Iris Apfel without thinking of bright and bold colors — after all, she is definitely not one to choose understated, monochromatic outfits. As Apfel explained in an interview with YourStudio, her appreciation for vibrant colors comes from her love of fine art — specifically, Henri Matisse. “I guess everybody who worked with [color] was influenced by our friend,” she said. “Mr. Matisse certainly knows how to carve through [color].”
One of Apfel’s favorite Matisse paintings is “The Snail,” which inspired her to create a colorful outfit out of a Dior cape and bangles. She also drew inspiration from his painting “The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown.” Even at a quick glance, it’s easy to see the links between Apfel and Matisse — after all, Apfel adores color. As she put it, “I can’t live without [color] … [Color] can raise the dead!”
She has never tried to hide her age when it comes to life or fashion
These days, many women feel anxious about aging. Many, for that matter, even attempt to hide their age as they get older. For Iris Apfel, aging is nothing to be ashamed of. As she told CNBC, this philosophy includes embracing how she looks. “There’s nothing wrong with wrinkles,” she said. “When you’re older, trying to look years younger is foolish, and you’re not fooling anyone.” For that reason, Apfel has never considered plastic surgery.
In another interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Apfel explained that as she neared 100, she was even more eager to embrace her real age. “At 96, I think that you should give thanks for every extra year you get,” she explained. For Apfel, that means dressing exactly how she wants, as long as it’s appropriate. “If I can carry it off, I still wear the same clothes I once did,” she said, explaining that she still wears a dress she wore on her first date with her late husband. We have to say, we love how Apfel approaches aging with common sense, dignity, and a positive spirit.
Iris Apfel's life-long partner, Carl, was her biggest supporter
Iris Apfel and her partner, Carl Apfel, were married from 1948 to 2015. For those decades, Carl was a crucial pillar of support for Iris. First, they were business partners, running Old World Weavers, a textile company that specialized in historic fabrics (via The Guardian). After that, he became her biggest champion.
As she wrote in her book, “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon,” (via CNBC) after his death in 2015, “We did almost everything together. His encouragement and unwavering support made this book possible.” She explained that it was Carl who encouraged her to keep pursuing fame. “He got much more of a kick from the accolades I received than I did,” she wrote.
Clearly, Carl was a hugely influential figure in Iris’ life. And after so many years of marriage, it’s easy to see why his death would have been such a huge blow for her.
The style icon was a friend of jazz legend Duke Ellington
When Iris Apfel was still young and in art school, she struck up a friendship with one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time — Duke Ellington. As she explained to The Telegraph, she was a big fan of jazz music and had been writing a paper about Ellington. When he came to town for a concert, she plucked up the courage to approach him at the stage door. “I got all dressed up; I think I had more nerve than brains,” she recalled.
A band member answered the door and was impressed by her outfit — apparently, Apfel was turning heads with her fashion even then. “I explained my mission and he said he was sure the Duke would see me.” She and Ellington did meet and quickly became friends. He even took her to Chicago to meet other famous jazz musicians, much to her mother’s disapproval.
Iris Apfel is the subject of a documentary called Iris
In 2016, the famous documentary filmmaker, Albert Maysles, chose Iris Apfel as the subject of his next documentary. Entitled simply “Iris,” the documentary shares a glimpse into her life and work. As she told Vogue, the film came about after Maysles heard about Apfel’s teaching program at the University of Texas. At first, Apfel said no to the idea. However, her friend eventually convinced her it was too good an opportunity to miss.
Being the center of such a prominent documentary was an exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking experience for Apfel. As she told The Cut, “I’m very gratified at the response we’re getting because I had no idea what to expect; I thought people might just laugh, you know, in not the right way.” Apfel also loved the fact that the documentary presented her as more than just “an empty-headed fashionista.”
This is what Iris Apfel likes to eat
Iris Apfel has quite specific tastes in food. As she told Healthyish, she’s tried just about every food you can think of. “When I was young, my husband and I were very adventurous,” she said. However, at 100 years old, her tastes have become a little simpler.
She usually eats white fish or lean meat with vegetables for lunch followed by fruit for dessert. If she does have red meat, she’s picky about the quality. “I never buy ground hamburger meat,” she said. “We always get a good steak and we grind it here at home.”
As for diet trends, Apfel doesn’t believe in them apart from incorporating turmeric into her diet. “I think they’re all cuckoo,” she said. Instead, her idea of healthy eating is simple: no junk food, no salt, and no soda. Clearly, her simple, healthy diet is serving her well!
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