How Fashion’s Hottest Style Icon, Iris Apfel, Is Debunking Ageism

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Footwear News will host its 2016 Achievement Awards in New York, honoring the best and brightest in the industry, including Icon of the Year Award winner Iris Apfel. Read on to learn more about her accomplishments.

Iris Apfel is undeniably ubiquitous. Take, for instance, an in-store cardboard cutout of her likeness among the racks at Bloomingdale’s or her “More is more, less is a bore” mantra emblazoned on an Iris x INC graphic tee at Macy’s.

In addition, the 95-year-old interior designer-turned-style influencer has spent the past decade inking deals with various companies, including HSN, M.A.C. Cosmetics, Finlandia vodka and Thermador appliances.

Her name — and influence — has gone from a fixture in the late Bill Cunningham’s style column to global phenomena. “She has almost 100 years of wisdom, of experience, of travels, of design and creativity,” said HSN CEO Mindy Grossman. “Who else can say that?” 

“People are now wearing big glasses again [because of her],” added Jennifer Ash Rudick, one of the producers of the documentary “Iris.” Apfel’s fans are both inspired to copy her signature look (spectacles, an armful of colorful bracelets, a pile of bold necklaces, topped off with a brightly colored faux fur) and emboldened to express their identity through fashion. That adoration — and a chance encounter at a movie theater — compelled Rudick, a longtime friend, to create the documentary. 

“[While waiting in line to see a film], everybody was so interested in having a picture with her; they all just wanted to come up and say, ‘Thank you for being you. You’ve inspired me to be myself,’ ” said Rudick. “And there seemed this genuine connection between her and all these fans that I didn’t know she had.”

From 6-year-olds to grandparents, Apfel’s fan base is wide-ranging. But Rudick noted things started to snowball for the self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” in 2005 after the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured an exhibition on her extensive fashion archives. Interest sparked again when the documentary came out in 2014. 

“I sit and laugh about it all the time,” Apfel said by phone one Saturday evening from her Manhattan apartment. “I’m not doing anything differently than I did 70 years ago. And now all of a sudden I’m hot or cool or whatever it is you are at the moment.” 

Apfel still keeps a grueling schedule of meetings and fashion parties, as well as media interviews. But the frenzy doesn’t faze her. “I love to work. I’m a creative person, and I have lots of ideas and creative energy,” she said. “And if it doesn’t come out, it would make me crazy.”

And work Apfel does. She has home accessories, jewelry and apparel collections with HSN, and this fall, she launched a collab collection with Happy Socks and helped curate must-have, ready-to-wear designs and jewelry at Macy’s. “She has an innate sense of style that multiple generations of women both admire and relate to,” said Nancy Slavin, SVP of marketing for Macy’s Merchandising Group. 

But it’s not about producing things. Apfel is known to appreciate quality and taste, according to HSN’s Grossman. “She believes that everything has to have meaning, a reference point and possess utmost style,” said Grossman. “Just don’t try to convince her to do anything she doesn’t truly love.” And don’t ask Apfel to pick favorites.

“I have a lot of things I love. I’m not fixated on one thing,” she said. “I love shoes. I’m mad about shoes, as I guess most women are. Early on, I started to be an amateur shoe designer myself, so I have great appreciation.”

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