The Wisdom of Individuality

MAY 17, 2017
Nonagenarian Iris Apfel reveals the key to her irreverent style, boundless energy, and longevity

"Style. I think you are born with it, but you have to work at it," says Iris fashion icon Apfel. "Nothing just happens. If you are given a gift, or the promise of a gift, you have to hone it. I think style, or the possibility for having style, is in your DNA. As a very important fashion editor in the States once said, ‘Fashion you can buy, but style you must possess'."

The nonagenarian personifies style to her core, and to express it she has spent decades collecting fashion, most recognisably in the form of accessories and jewellery - she is frequently seen with arms full of gorgeous bangles and bracelets, adorned with striking necklaces and other jewels, not to mention her fashion-forward spectacles. Her dress sense has made such an impression that The Metropolitan Museum in New York staged at exhibition dedicated to her style, entitled Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel. That was in 2005 - and it thrust her into fashion's limelight where she has become something of a darling.

Apfel wasn't always in fashion - in fact she made her career in home furnishings and interiors, but she always had an eye. "I like things that are a bit offbeat," she says. "And I like to put them together and it's kind of an original thing that I enjoy doing."

Throughout her life, Apfel has never lacked the confidence to wear what she liked. "I feel people should express themselves. Everybody is an individual, or should be, or try to be, and just being like everybody else is rather boring. I never was a rebel, or dressed to make anybody look at me. I dressed to please myself and to please my husband. If I did anything that didn't please him or my mother, I wouldn't wear it. That very rarely happened, but I always felt…I hope people like what I wear, but if they don't it's their problem, not mine."

Despite her 95-years Apfel continues to embrace everything that comes her way, including her trip to Hong Kong. "I haven't ever been to the Orient. Hong Kong sounds to me like a fascinating place. The Chinese have always been favourites of mine for working in the arts and crafts - there is a wonderful tradition," she says, with an enthusiasm that's more commonly found in someone younger. What is the secret to her youthful energy? "I don't have any secrets!" she exclaims. "I just love what I do and I try to do it the best I can. I think just because you've rolled up a lot of years don't mean you have to roll over and forget about everything. It takes more pushing now - it's not as easy as it used to be. When you are 95, you are not as spry as you were when you were 50, but I enjoy being alive - and I'm all in favour of older people being more active."

What does Apfel herself do to keep active? "Well, I work all the time. I love to work. I think working is a wonderful thing. Because I do all the things I love to do. I mean there are plenty of hardships and things that are not amusing when you work, but if everything was hunky dory all the time, it would be rather boring. I really enjoy new projects, and learning new things, and tackling new things, and working with young people and older people."

As Iris continues to work, she has some words of wisdom that she lives by and adopts in all aspects of her life. "I just try to be myself. I try to be a good person. All the corny things, you know. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. And look at life as the glass half full, not half empty. Everybody should be grateful for being alive and being in the world and try to absorb it and have the best possible time. I think it's very important to live in the now. I don't live in the past, or hanker for the future; I want to experience everything I can right now."

If you are inspired by Iris, share your own ‘Words of Wisdom’ on anything from life and fashion to individuality and style now.