IRIS, Iris Apfel, fashionista, life after 50

life after 50, baby boomer women, boomer womenI’ve always adored the style-maven Iris Apfel. I’ve followed her flamboyant fashions and over-sized iconic eyewear since I was in college in the 70s. As a student of textile and clothing design, it was a treat to see what avant-garde outfit and costume jewelry Iris was wearing on the fashion pages or around the streets of New York City.

Now at 93 (the same age my mom would have been if she was alive), she is the subject of a new documentary called IRIS. If you are a fashionista or creative spirit like me, you won’t want to miss this fabulous film directed by the legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (who sadly passed away in March).

Iris Apfel, IRIS, aging, fashionista

Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo credit: (c) Bruce Weber.

Who Is Iris Apfel?
For those of you who don’t know Iris, let me tell you about her. “While Iris Apfel has been an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades, her life is more than just about glamour,” as the press release states. “She continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression. Her enthusiasm for fashion, art and people, reminds us that dressing, and indeed life, is nothing but an experiment.” Her fun-loving attitude, abundant creativity, and tireless energy are what make Iris so inspiring and the film IRIS so endearing.

During her earlier career, Iris ran a large textiles and decorating business with her husband Carl (who celebrates his 100th birthday in the film). She described how her bi-annual trips to Europe helped her curate furnishings and fabrics for her clients (and collect trinkets and treasures for her own collections). She even restored fabrics in the White House — when Truman and Kennedy were Presidents.

Never earning the title of ‘mom,” she has no misgivings about not having children. “You can’t have everything,” said Iris. “I never wanted to have children. I didn’t want to have my child raised by a nanny. I wanted to work and I wanted to travel.”

Today she continues to mentor many young students and designers. With an abundance of clothes, accessories, and more, she also continues to donate her garments to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, where her renowned collection of costume jewelry was once showcased.

IRIS, Iris Apfel, Carl Apfel, fashionista, aging, life after 50

Carl and Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Iris on Fashion and Style
Whether Iris is shopping at The Paris Flea Market or New York’s prestigious Bergdorf Goodman, she combines everything to make her own individual style. One of her other favorite stores (and one of mine while I was growing up, which is likely why I am a big Iris fan) was designer discount Loehmann’s. (I was so sad the day Loehmann’s closed its doors.)

“Mrs. Loehmann told me, Iris you’re not pretty, you’ll never be pretty, but you have style,” said Iris. (I so enjoyed hearing Iris reminisce about her excursions to Loehmann’s, perhaps because her stories brought back fond memories of my mom and our Saturday shopping trips to the big Bronx multi-leveled Loehmann’s.)

Iris has words of wisdom about fashion and style. Here are a few gems:
“I like individuality. Everything is homogenized today.”
“The best thing was getting dressed for the party. I didn’t care about going to the party.”
“My mother said: ‘Buy a little black dress and you’ll always have something to wear. You can dress it up and dress it down.'”
“Accessories can transform an outfit.”

Iris on Aging
Iris is equally engaging about aging. Here’s what she said:
On illness: “If I don’t feel well, I go shopping and I get a fix.” (Great advice Iris. Me too. Me too.)
♥ On plastic surgery: “It could come out looking like Picasso. Everybody knows how old you are.”
♥ On happiness: “It’s better to be happy, than well dressed.”
♥ On friendship: “I could never be friends with anyone who isn’t curious or doesn’t have a sense of humor.”
♥ On matters of health: “As my mom’s friend used to say as you get older, ‘I have two of everything and one hurts.’ You can’t do what you did. Now I get tired.”
♥ On the difference between women and men: “In the words of my grandpa, ‘A woman is as old as she looks. But a man is never old until he stops looking.'”

And for sure, Carl as he turns 100 is ‘still looking.’ Why not, he has the legendary tastemaker and geriatric starlet to look at every day. Who wouldn’t want to look at Iris? She is so interesting.


The IRIS documentary comes out this month in New York and Los Angeles and will be rolling out to other cities across the country throughout the spring and summer. It was a joy to watch. The only thing that would have made it better was if my mom was around to watch it with me. I think she would have loved IRIS as much as I did.

To all those celebrating this weekend, I wish you a very “Happy Mothers’ Day!”