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Life Lessons with Iris Apfel

We go head-to-head with fashion's favorite nonagenarian.

We like to think we have a go-to phrase here at TC HQ: WWID, or, for the uninitiated: What Would Iris Do. We figure that when it comes to getting imaginative, there’s no one quite as inspiring as the 92-year-old (yes, you read that number correctly), right? And it works with all sorts of situations: what would she see, what would she think, but especially, What Would Iris Say. We’ve really always wanted to know—‘cause you’d think that after more than a few decades as the ultimate purveyor of extraordinary taste (we like to think that’s our calling card too, kids), girl kind of knows what’s up. So we finally had the chance to catch up over the phone while Apfel was in Palm Beach, and guys, Iris is everything we hoped she would be—only better.

On the topic of all things Iris, our friends over at One King’s Lane are selling 800 pieces from Apfel’s personal collection this week (don't worry: we're mentally calculating how to afford our rent this month, too), so we can all have a little piece of our favorite nonagenarian—but seriously, act fast. Apfel was straight up when she told us she hopes that her things will help others be a little less boring—but honestly, anything to be like Iris.

On selling pieces from her personal collection...

"I had all of these wonderful things and I'm not doing much with the business anymore as I'm doing so much with fashion. I put these items away when I sold my company years ago—we owned a company called Old World Weavers and I also had an interior design business. I couldn't do everything, but I always kept these pieces thinking that one day I would go back. Then my [MET] show came and my fashion life began, and I've been enjoying it so much that I decided that I preferred to do this. I have all of these lovely things that I've collected over the years that are just sitting there and are very hard to part with. I finally decided that it was ridiculous and that people should enjoy them. One Kings Lane came along and it was the perfect marriage, so we decided to go ahead and do a major sale." 

On her antique collection's origins...

"All over the world; I travelled extensively. For my business I used to do two trips a year, mostly to Europe and England, to buy for my clients. I had a big interior design business of my own and I also sold antiques through the Old World Weaver showrooms around the country. Then there were a number of my own things that I've collected over the years, so it's an amalgamation. But it's a long, long collection from all over the place."

On what she looks for while shopping (because haven't you always wanted to shop with Iris Apfel?)...

"It has to jump out and say something. I like offbeat things; I have very few run of the mill things. I have a lot of pieces that are from other periods that may fit perfectly, but are not the usual thing that you would see. You can't do houses and have everything you need right at your fingertips, and clients don't like to wait too long. So whenever I saw unusual things I bought them—in all kinds of crazy places."

On what she collects now...

"I've had to cut down drastically as we’ve run out of wall space. Fortunately, I'm not a minimalist, as I'm sure you've noticed. I have a couple of storage spaces. I still buy small things that appeal to me and I still collect jewelry with a vengeance.”

On the last thing she bought...

"Let me think… I'm trying to remember. I bought a wonderful pin recently; it's all pavé stones and must be about eight inches high. When you look at it at first it looks like a 19th century dandy. The gentleman has a long frock coat and interesting hat, like a top hat, but it's a trembling piece—its head wiggles. When you look more however, he's not a man, he's a monkey. He's really quite wonderful."

On what you'd find inside her beauty cabinet...

"My favorite shade of lipstick? Very, very, bright, bright, bright red. My husband and I use the same scent, it's very nice but not easy to find. We used to buy it in Paris but now you can get it in the States. It’s called Yagatan [cologne]."

On her signature shades...

"I found them in the flea market and I started to wear them when I needed to wear glasses! As a matter of fact, I liked them so much—the great big ones—sometimes I’d wear them without any lenses just as an accessory, as I thought they were so fantastic."

On her favorite piece inside her closet...

"I still have the dress I wore on the first date with my husband, which was more than 66 years ago. I still have it and it still fits."

On her favorite decade for design... 

"There were a few decades that I hated, but I loved most things. The world is not black and white; there are lots of shades of grey. There are good things and bad things in every era, and I think it's kind of very blindfolded to say one era was wonderful, as it was wonderful, but there were a lot of bad things as well. Art Nouveau I don't like, but people were doing some wonderful things. I love things with a sense of Baroque. I love big, bold things, as well as very simple things. I go from one to the other and I like to mix them up."

On the best piece of advice she's ever received... 

"My father told me once not to expect anything from anybody so I wouldn't be disappointed. If somebody was nice and did nice things for me I should be overjoyed, but I shouldn't go through life expecting it, which is very good advice."

On where she shops in New York...

"I never had special places as you never know what you're going to find—I always tried to keep an open mind. I could find a treasure in a junk shop or junk in a very elegant emporium."

On nailing down her style...

"It's very eclectic—everything I like, I put together. I don't like the norm. I think there's a lot of wonderful decorating around, but it all looks the same. While some of these homes are very beautiful, they look anonymous to me. They could be suites in very expensive hotels, but they don't tell you who lives there. I like an apartment that has some personality. When it comes down to it, everyone is different."

On the state of fashion today...

"The anonymity of it—it's all too similar. I think people should express themselves more and not just buy what's in. While it can be very beautiful and it may suit you perfectly, I'm sure it doesn’t suit everyone in the same way. I like people who express themselves and are more individualistic."

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