A Life in Collecting with Iris Apfel Q&A at MAD Museum, NYC, 15 May 2013
“Style is attitude, attitude, attitude.” With those trademark oversized round glasses, Iris Apfel has cemented her status as a fashion icon for being stylish, creative, and in my opinion…quirky. At the Museum of Arts and Design last night, Designer, TV Personality and Fashion Model Iris Apfel spent a couple of hours downstairs at a live interview and audience Q&A session, moderated by T: The New York Times Style Magazine’s Deborah Needleman, where she discussed her life as a designer/entrepreneur, her opinions on style today, shopping, her fame, and those big, round glasses.
Originally an interior decorator, Apfel had to give up that career, because she had so much to do. Though not much of a big planner, she achieved her fame and recognition through happy accidents, revealing that everything that’s important in her life all happened “by accident”.
Apfel’s 2005-2006 Metropolitan Museum exhibit Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection could not have been an accident though. The traveling exhibition, which was only suppose to feature a handful of garments personally accessorized by Apfel, somehow ended up with 86 garments (edited from 300). Assisting in the press for this exhibit was world-renowned Photographer Bill Cunningham, who helped put Apfel’s show on the map with a piece in the New York Times. Apfel later revealed that the exhibition would eventually be bequeathed to the Peabody Essex Museum is Salem, MA, where Apfel bluntly refers to as “Witch County”.
Blunt, to the point, sarcastic, witty…and real, the 91 year old does not mince words or sugar coat her opinions. Style nowadays seems woefully tragic to Apfel. “Nobody is original anymore” believing that today everybody dresses to express trendiness or wants to be somebody else. Technology is a major factor, throwing all information at you, with gadgets that dull your imagination. According to Apfel, people should make an effort in their attire, while utilizing the concept of “romance, glamour, and mystery”.
Style isn’t easy. Apfel advised the audience to find out what one could do with their style and spend the time and effort to work at it. “You really have to work at it, hone your eye”, this was also her advice on one’s talent and not just one’s style.
When it comes to her shopping attitude, she buys what she likes, from flea markets to Loehemann’s, to the Home Shopping Network. “I like to buy things that please me…I’m not a person who buys names”. She also believes that when out shopping, if you like it you should buy it when you see it and not dawdle over it. Apfel’s accessories from the evening were all from her own HSN collection Rara Avis by Iris Apfel.
Her down to earth attitude about herself also makes Apfel an endearing figure in the fashion world. “I’m on my merry way, all of a sudden I’m hot, I’m cool…” Apfel doesn’t understand why everybody is so interested in her. She doesn’t have an agent, manager, assistant, or even email. “Everybody calls me”. She also doesn’t have interns, because she feels most of them go into it for the glamour. She basically does it all herself. Apfel doesn’t even read her own press, that job is done happily by husband, Carl Apfel.
The night’s Q&A with Apfel was full of insight, inspiration, and laughter. “I don’t take myself to seriously…there should be a few mistakes”. These gold tidbits of information into one’s style were absolutely priceless. At times self deprecating, referring to herself as a “broad” or her amazing turquoise necklace as “junk” made this out of reach icon more down to earth and relatable. When asked why she wears big glasses, her sense of timing mixed with humor was spot on as she replied “the bigger to see you with”. A documentary on Apfel is due out in the Fall and that should be an amazing turnout. When asked to state three words to sum up her approach on life, Apfel declared, “Only one trip…might as well live it up.” I believe a new mantra has just been created.
(My apologies to Nate Berkus for breathing that huge, loud gasp as you walked in front of me. I didn’t mean to startle you, but hey…you’re Nate Berkus!)