Do you know Iris Apfel? If you don’t, then you certainly should. A designer by trade, she’s one of my absolute style icons, with her vibrant lipstick, wild specs, fabulous jewellery and steel-grey hair. And the best part of it is that she’s just turned 100. Her motto? “More is more and less is a bore.”
To celebrate her landmark birthday, she’s announced a fashion collab with H&M, which I suspect will be fully in line with another of her favourite sayings: “Never be afraid to stop traffic.” If you’re one of her two million followers on Instagram, @iris.apfel, you’ll know what that means.
One of the things I particularly love about her – along with her outrageous sense of style and sensational collection of costume jewellery – is the fact she’s not afraid to shout about what it means to be an older woman. She’s aggrieved that those in midlife and beyond have been largely forgotten by designers and she has repeatedly pointed out that no older woman can identify with a 15-year-old model. All of which led to her signing her first modelling contract – at the age of 97.
Iris’s life story is fascinating. Born in New York in 1921, she grew up during the Great Depression. At the age of 11, her collecting career began when she fell in love with a brooch in a basement shop in Greenwich Village. It cost $0.65, and she saved every penny she could until she finally bought it. It launched one of the largest private jewellery collections in America.
For decades, she was a successful interior designer, helping with the décor at the White House for nine different presidents. But it was only when Harold Koda, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, plundered her jewellery and clothing collection to stage an exhibition that Iris became a pop-culture icon.
Now she’s in huge demand. Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M’s creative adviser, said of their upcoming partnership: “We are celebrating a unique and extraordinary woman and her creative and audacious style. She shows that style is ageless.”
I couldn’t have put that better myself. Iris really is a woman after my own heart. “My first big job in fashion came when I was 84, so as clichéd as it is, age really is just a number to me,” she told InStyle for its recent Badass Women issue. “But being passionate about my projects and putting my heart and soul into them has kept me young.”
We could all do to be more Iris. “I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished, especially in my nineties, and I’m excited about what the future holds. Looking forward and still pursuing adventures at the age of 100? I think that’s pretty badass.”
Damn right. And her achievements serve to remind us all that life isn’t over at 50. She’s just one of a growing number of older women who are sticking two fingers up to society’s ageist standards – and she’s paving the way for the rest of us to get out there and follow our dreams.
Just look at the number of older women with thriving modelling careers right now: Daphne Selfe, Maye Musk, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Lauren Hutton – and not one of them below the age of 70. If you search for pictures of them when they were younger, you’ll see these women are far more confident, and, yes, more beautiful now than they were way back when. They’re embracing all their age has to offer.
Iris summed up that attitude perfectly when she told InStyle: “I don’t plan to slow down any time soon. I’m constantly looking for new ways to express my personal style, improvise and take chances. I plan to keep challenging myself and opening new doors in the years ahead.”
At the age of 100, that’s pretty impressive. Though she cut to the heart of the matter when she told Anna Murphy, fashion director of The Times: “What’s wrong with being 72, or 82, or 92? The alternative to old is not very pleasant. If God is good enough to give you those years, flaunt them.”
Isn’t that just what we’re always telling you here at Studio10? We’re not about slipping quietly into midlife in twinset and slacks – we want you to stride confidently into your middle years and beyond. Wear something outrageous if it makes you feel good. Embrace the Apfel ethos. Let’s all try to be more Iris. She looks like she’s having a bloody good time.