4 Things We Learned About Iris Apfel, from the Woman Herself

Joanna Bober is InStyle's lifestyle director. Follow her on Instagram. 

Iris Apfel
Photo: Araya Diaz/WireImage

At InStyle, we devote months at a time to creating the very best gift guides on the planet (witness our fabulously lengthy opus in the December issue, now available on newsstands and for digital download, as well as additional picks online). So when an invitation arrived to check out Story, the ever-changing retail space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, to see owner and curator Rachel Shechtman’s newest “gift guide come to life" installation, I was hooked. But the biggest draw of all was this: Part of the product lineup would include jewelry from the iconic Iris Apfel’s personal accessories collection, and she’d be present to answer any questions. Having just watched the Albert Maysles documentary Iris about her colorful life, I couldn’t wait to meet her. On the day of her appearance at the shop, she sat amid the flurry of holiday shoppers, elegantly attired in a brightly patterned jacket (“It was given to me by [J. Crew designer] Jenna Lyons,” she explained). Around her neck hung multiple, oversized jet black chain link necklaces. Below, a few new things I learned about this stylish woman during our conversation.

She had a long, illustrious career in interior design. While today she’s utterly immersed in the worlds of beauty and fashion, Apfel spent most of her working life running her textile design firm, Old World Weavers, with her husband Carl. They traveled around the world sourcing various designs, and would work on a restoration projects for high-society types and multiple White House administrations. “Fashion and interiors are both a means of personal expression,” she said, when queried about her deep involvement in both fields. “You decorate your self, you decorate where you live. It is part of a lifestyle.”

One of her favorite designers is Ralph Rucci. “He’s a genius and an original, and he’s not trendy," she said of the Philadelphia native who relinquished the reins of his eponymous label one year ago. "I hate trendy. His craftsmanship is beyond belief. The way clothing is made today is appalling.”

She teaches college-age kids about the fashion world. “I work with fashion students every year with the purpose of showing them what goes on in the industry and how vast a field it really is. Some come to New York City with the idea that you can only become a fashion designer in order to be a part of that world, but there is a big umbrella of opportunities, from licensing and window design to styling and trend forecasting. I introduce them to my friends in those areas—at Bergdorf Goodman, The Metropolitan Museum, Swarovski."

Her lipstick choices are precise. "I like shocking pink or bright red. Mac’s Lady Danger is very good." (Get your hands on it, too! $17; maccosemetics.com)

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