What We Learned From Iris Apfel (And Her Talk At Sotheby’s)

Here at R29, we don't get star-struck too often—sure, we get a little nervous when faced with the opportunity to meet a celeb, but we usually manage to keep our cool. Such was not the case when we were given the opportunity to attend an intimate conversation between Veranda magazine's EIC Dara Caponigro and style icon extraordinaire Iris Apfel, as part of Hearst Design Group's "Best Of" lecture series benefitting the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. The venerable fashion legend is one of our true idols, and we were more than a wee bit excited to get the chance to have her impart on us some of her hard-earned wisdom. And, spoiler alert, we were not disappointed. At the ripe old age of 90, Mrs. Apfel has more sprite and wit than many people we've met decades younger. Along with our fellow audience members, we were lucky enough to rack her brain about all things fashion and style, and, because we love you, we're giving you the most important lessons.

Even The Most Glamorous Style Icons Have Awkward Phases
Although we can say with complete certainty that Iris Apfel has one of the best wardrobes in NYC, she wasn't always as gifted in the style department. At the age of eight she was given the opportunity to sit for a prominent photographer, and insisted upon dressing herself in a homemade ballerina costume, in which she used cheesecloth to form the tutu. "My mother was absolutely horrified by the outfit," said Apfel. "My figure [in the costume] was like an amateur sculptor poked here and poked there, and eventually got disgusted and went to lunch."

Never Be Afraid To Take Risks In Fashion
Not that you'd be surprised, but Iris was one of the first women in the country to wear jeans, and it just so happened to be during her tenure as a student at the University of Wisconsin. "The only people who wore jeans in Wisconsin were lumberjacks and Paul Bunyon," joked Apfel. "But, I had this idea that they would look very interesting with a turban and hoop earrings...I suppose they thought I was a nut, but I didn't care." Although some of her fellow Wisconsinites may have given her outfit choice less than rave reviews, the experience helped Iris shape one of her style philosophies that she still holds true today. "I've never tried to be a rebel, I just do what I like to do. I think more people should get to know themselves, and what they like, and try to make it [dressing] fun."

Getting Older Isn't The End Of The World
Like many women of a certain age, Iris takes argument with the lack of strong fashion choices for women as they get older, "You're not supposed to don widow's weaves [when you get older], but you also don't want to look like a silly young chippy," said Apfel. "Fortunately, I hear there are dresses this season that actually have sleeves. I've always said that if I had time, I'd open a shop on Madison Avenue and call it 'Sleeves.'"
"It's a youth mania and it's great to be young, but it's not the end-all. I always say the alternative to getting older is very unpleasant, so you should be happy for every year you get. The best thing about getting old is that you don't have to worry about what you look like in a bikini!"

Photographed by Annie Watt