"Getting older ain’t for sissies, I’ll tell you. It’s very funny. I have a dear friend whose mother’s gone, but she was very funny. When I’d say ‘Yuda, how do you feel?’ she’d say, ‘Oh—when I get up in the morning, everything I have two of, one hurts’. You have to push yourself when you’re older, because it’s very easy to fall into the trap. You start to fall apart—you just have to do your best to paste yourself together. I think doing things and being active is very important. When your mind is busy, you don’t hurt so much. Thank God I love to do things. I feel blessed that I have all these opportunities at this stage in my life. I was always very busy with all kinds of stuff, and I’m very used to it—but at ninety, I have all these new careers—a makeup collection with MAC, working on glasses for Eye-Bobs, I’m on Home Shopping and on YOOX, and I do a big program with the fashion school at the University of Texas at Austin—they made me a professor.
I’m from New York. My grandparents were settlers of Long Island City. When they came here, there was no bridge and they had to hire a boat across the river. They had a farm and my grandmother had to go once a week to Manhattan to buy provisions—very primitive. I grew up out there, and since I married we’ve lived in the city. So I’m definitely a New Yorker through and through. My mother was pretty glamorous, she was a working gal, but she was very glamorous. First she was in real estate, and then she had fashion boutiques. Way back then she carried costume jewelry—beautiful costume jewelry. I go green sometimes—I go to the flea markets and some of the pieces she retailed were $35, now they’re $3,000. Not too many of those. I’ve been collecting since I was eleven—do the math. [Laughs] My mother wore a lot more makeup than I. She was a totally different type. She had more of the look of the Duchess of Windsor—she was very put together, and she was very very picture perfect. There was never a hair out of place. Her clothes were more feminine, and very ladylike—very elegant. I walk around all day in jeans—it’s very rare that I wear a dress. This is a rare occasion. I just happened to see this dress and fell in love with it. I love the colors, and I love to hide my turkey neck, so that was good.
I don’t do very much for beauty. I use very simple things on my skin. I haven’t got time. I would always get facials, and then come home laden with product, and pay a lot of money and never use it. Anyway, one day a dermatologist told me to use Cetaphil to clean my face, and as a moisturizer, and that’s what I do. I used to wear—when I was younger—heavy heavy eye makeup and a very bright mouth. One day, I fell into the hands of my friend’s sister who was a very glamorous fashion model. She took me by the hand and in the other hand she had a tube of black mustache wax. She took a spoon and struck a match, and the wax melted, then she took a brush on the eyes and they beaded—I looked like Miss Piggy. On my eyelashes—very heavy—it was like heavy, heavy, heavy mascara. I had very long lashes, so it was very striking. This was when I was about eighteen, which, let me see—I’m ninety now, so, how long was that? About seventy-two years ago—I don’t know if they even make it anymore. That’s what I used to use, and I used to use eye shadow and very bright lipstick. I’m not good at putting on makeup, but you have to be a moron not to be able to put on lipstick. Now since I’m older, I don’t do my eyes anymore because when you’re older, your eyelids wrinkle. If you use blue or green, and you’re not really expert, you end up looking like a turtle.
When MAC asked me to do a collection, I was thrilled and flattered. I never thought I’d be doing this; it’s like some sort of an insane, psychedelic dream. I worked with them and we picked colors, and I told them the kind of colors I liked—I like bright, intense colors. They showed me what they had and what they could do, and some of them were not quite heavy enough. I need a heavy—for me—a heavy matte lipstick. They were able to change the formulas. They went back and forth, and then we did eye shadows and nail polish, and a couple of other things—very exciting, very sexy. I loved it. I like the orangey-red lipsticks. Those are my favorites. I like them all actually, and I love a nice hot pink. I like thick lipstick, otherwise it doesn’t look like you’re wearing lipstick. If you have a little rosebud mouth, maybe for young girls it’s nice—but older women need some color. I think those whitish lips on older women look insane. There are some that look white, there are some funny colors. They don’t look attractive.
Aging gracefully is about no heavy makeup, and not too much powder because it gets into the wrinkles, and you know, to not get turtle eyelids, and to not try to look young. You don’t have to look like an old fuddy-duddy, but I believe it was Chanel who said, ‘Nothing makes a woman look so old as trying desperately hard to look young’. I think you can be attractive at any age. I think trying to look like a spring chicken when you’re not makes you look ridiculous. I’m very opposed to plastic surgery. I think if—God forbid—you’re in an accident, or if you were cursed with a nose like Pinocchio, you’d have to go and get it fixed. But just to get nipped and tucked, I think it’s very painful, very expensive, and having been in hospitals as much as I have, subjecting yourself to surgery when you don’t need it is not a smart thing to do. But what do I know? I mean, almost everybody does it. I think if women put some more of the time and money they put on their heads in their heads, they’d be better off. I mean, nobody’s going to think you’re thirty-two, so what’s the point?
I’ve been grey since almost forever. I always say I looked like a skunk—I had black hair with a wide white streak. From that it started to get pepper and salt. My mother always did her hair. I guess she wasn’t a fan of that, her daughter having grey hair—it made her feel older, I suppose. I wouldn’t dye it, so we compromised on streaks—it was very fashionable back then. Oh, I hated it. I couldn’t wait for it to grow out. So it turned from pepper and salt to grey, and then it turned white. I get it cut by Hervé at Elizabeth Arden. And fortunately, my husband likes grey hair. He’s ninety-seven. I was saying this morning, if we last until February, we’ll be married sixty-four years. We use the same perfume. It’s called Yatagan, it’s by Caron—it’s not very popular. It’s hard to find over here, so we used to buy it in these great big flacons and keep it in the fridge—that’s what we were told to do. We like it very much. Also, when I was younger, I used to use Mitsouko a lot at night, which is this very exotic odor made by Guerlain. I don’t remember if the formula has changed or if I have changed, but something has changed—and I’m always in a hurry anyways, so I just slap on the Yatagan and everybody seems to like it.
I’m very active and I don’t sit still very much. I like to eat well, I don’t like rich food, and I don’t eat junk food. I used to like to drink, not heavily of course—now I just drink wine at dinner. I like good, wholesome, well-prepared food. I don’t like glopped-up, I don’t eat cakes. Sometimes they say I don’t eat enough, but it’s better to eat less than more. I think more people get sick from over-eating all the wrong things. The body is like a machine—if you don’t put the right kind of fluids into it, it’s not going to work so well, or it’s going to get clogged up. I used to be a very heavy smoker, maybe fifty years ago I stopped cold-turkey—and I smoked four packs a day. My husband had bought me a beautiful cigarette holder that had a filter, and you could take the filters out and you could see all this brown gummy stuff, and I’d say, ‘Oh, this is in me? Oh!’ There was nothing to help you, and it was very difficult, but I stopped. I was told that when you get these cravings, eat some candy—which I did, and I don’t especially like candy. I gained a lot of weight, so I went on a diet and they said I had to stop drinking too, and I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m not drinking, I’m not eating, I might as well be dead,’ but after a while, it worked out.
I never really had too many mentors or icons or anything, I just kind of plodded along. I think when I was very young, maybe in my teens, I was experimenting until I found what I thought I liked. Didn’t take too long. I don’t like trends anyway—I like tradition. I’m doing the same thing and liking the same things. Of course, to say I don’t change—that makes me sound like I’m a dimwit. You change as you go along. I mean, you grow—but my basic sensibility is the same. I’m not doing anything in a violently different way now than I did fifty years ago. That’s pitiful. My husband and I laugh about it all the time because we think, ‘My God,’ these girls will say, I’m ‘cool’ or I’m ‘hot’ or whatever the expression is, and I’m not doing anything differently than what I did a long time ago. It’s funny. I can’t say I don’t like it, it’s very flattering. Matter-of-fact, I think one of the most flattering things I’ve ever heard—you know, I almost fell out of my chair when someone called to tell me about it—Alexis Bittar’s PR girl has a tattoo of me on her wrist. It’s a very good portrait! I haven’t seen it in person, but apparently it looks just like me.”
—as told to ITG
Apfel's MAC collection is available online now, and in-store January 5th through February 9th.