Iris Apfel

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"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.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • http://kitchenafternoon.blogspot.com/ Kitchen afternoon

    Taking the long view is refreshing! This is a great start to the day/year!

  • cherise binary

    Fabulous article. Adore this one, well done! x

  • Schehaa

    Hope her and her husband "last" for many more Februarys.

  • Iggy

    Yaaassss. Good direction Emily.

  • Grandeur Manifesto

    She's a major inspiration for us 30 something!
    http://www.grandeurmanifesto.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/Cafe_Makeup Cafe Makeup.com

    Beautiful interview. Thank you!

  • Lena

    One of my favorite things I've read on here! She is a gem of wit, beauty and smarts. Love her.

  • Stephanie

    Wonderful. This is one to read and re-read!

  • Liz

    Loving this!

  • Denisa

    great, great, great article. She is really a lady! :)

  • http://www.capitalbusinesscredit.com/ Capital Business Credit

    Great article! Simply inspirational and pleasant.

  • Melanie

    OK, this is my FAVORITE post of all time! Iris is awesome, and beautiful! She's totally right about the makeup... In my mid-thirties I am finding that more and better skincare, less and lighter makeup is the way to go. And finally, more and more women are emerging who agree with me - I value the process of aging gracefully rather than resentfully. I wouldn't trade my life lessons, independence and greater self-awareness for the twenty-something jeans size ever. I like her viewpoints on plastic surgery - it reminds me of what Christy Turlington said - if you do that, then you will never know what you were supposed to look like at such and such age. I like the concept of valuing our individual selves more than the marketed self we are sold to be.

  • http://www.prettylittleunderthings.com/ Esther

    i loved this so much. thank you iris & emily!

  • http://TheUrbanFlamingo.blogspot.com/ THEURBANFLAMINGO

    She is perfect. I love this and am going to hang it in my room to always remember her thoughts and amazing advice.

  • Sarahdee

    She may not have had many mentors/icons but she is definitely mine! She is inspiring, witty, and so confident. Thanks for making my day!

    <3 Sarah
    theantiquepearl.blogspot.com

  • Vivian Morelli

    Wow. She is fascinating and timeless. Words to live by.

  • Kellyp10

    Thank you!!! Love, love, love this post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4204029 Anna Merkel

    I loved this! She seems so genuine.

  • Alyssa Max

    I adore this. She is so inspiring and gorgeous and stylish. I also love that she said she just "plodded along" - that she didn't have a lot of mentors. I am always sad that no one has taken me under their wing, but if it means figuring things out on my own like Iris, then maybe it won't be so bad!

  • http://twitter.com/emilylime Emily L.

    HOW excited am I to see Iris Apfel's TopShelf interview?! So very! Well done, Emily

  • Serdane-elie

    OMG that is a big activity indeed you have to handle... You inspire me a lot about always stay simple and get in touch about fashion crazyness !!

    http://www.younglington.wordpress.com

  • Samantha Shaw

    LOVE YOU IRIS!!! And thanks for the shout out, haha... my favorite tattoo for my favorite lady! Muah- so proud of you! xoxo

    • Beatriz

      Curious about the story behind this; was it special order or like "Maam, would you prefer the Jimmi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe or Iris Apfel?" In any event, you know you truly made it when someone is wearing you on their sleeve.

  • http://twitter.com/RESEWON Theresa Won

    what a coup! this was great and very enlightening. thanks for posting!

  • Rivka Neufeld

    Lovely

  • Keely

    "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."

    Best. Topshelf. Ever.

  • Ilona

    What a wonderful and uplifting article! This woman is a legend!

  • Aynne

    Ah! Iris Apfel is such a fabulous lady! So saucy and full of life! I hope to be something like that when I reach her age. Very inspiring

  • Dain

    What a classy woman!

  • Frances

    GReat, Great post!!

    http://thefashionhive.com

  • http://twitter.com/thegrtdanadane dana antoria tenant

    def one of my favorites! great post! I love that she has an effortless approach to aging...don't fool with "you" because it makes you...'you' :)

  • http://themountainawaits.wordpress.com/ Lou

    Iris is an absolute wonder. What a special post.

  • Anonymous

    Amazing! I loved every single thing about this post!

  • Dutch

    Such an inspiring woman.

  • P.R

    as much as i adore her contributions for design, i have read claims from upcoming product designers that claim that she stole their ideas. so i will not forgive her for that. i wont name names or post links here. but google her and her design theft.

  • Beautyincrisis

    I adore her! I love that she's so unique! Great article

    http://beautyincrisis.blogspot.com/

  • Thefashioninformer

    What a wonderful - and inspirational - interview. Coincidentally, I read it immediately after watching Lina Plioplyte's documentary trailer about Advanced Style, which also stars Iris Apfel. She's a gem, that one!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=751480335 Tracy Ann Johnson

    My muse<3
    I simply ADORE her.

  • Martha

    Best Top Shelf ever. That is all.

  • Aubrey Maggio

    Um...can I adopt her as my grandma? I absolutely adore her! Her wit and honesty had me laughing out loud and her wisdom had me nodding my head in agreement. My favorite article of INTG ever. I wish the best for her and her hubby of many decades.

  • http://stairsmagazine.blogspot.com/ Kori

    This is on my favorites list of your interviews! I first read about Iris a couple months ago over on Alison's blog, teenangster.net, and then went on to read the NYT article Alison had linked to. Such a quirky, spirited woman! Love it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.trieskey Jessica Trieskey

    Almost all of her lipstick shades are sold out already!

  • http://www.theblossomshed.blogspot.com/ The Blossom Shed

    Such a great article:) Love her, love the new MAC line, and hope I'll be half as cool at her age. Though I could never give up cakes....

    The Blossom Shed Beauty Blog

  • Lexi

    What a badass! Fantastic interview, love what she says about changing and adapting, but figuring out who you are having the basic sensibility. And this great quote: "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."

  • odessatseng

    What a lovely story, truly enjoyed it!

  • Janel A

    incredible interview! she has a great sense of humor!

  • Nina

    Wow! Brought tears to my eyes...such an inspiration on so many levels. @Guest - I looked up Iris' comments - I think she was being comedic ala Joan Rivers.

  • http://woodstockwardrobe.com/ Dana

    Great article! I love glamorous women who don't succumb to the pitfalls of getting older!

    http://woodstockwardrobe.com

  • Lydia Webber

    That was hilarious. And smart.

  • Sharon

    this is real beauty

  • miss p

    Iris is fabulous! She is so inspirational to keep busy, do things, don't let yourself just sink into some boring old age - I will have to look for her Mac collection.

  • Stephanie

    amazing. one of my favourite posts on itg.

  • Amanda

    Definitely the most amazing article I've read in a while, credited by her utter honesty and humor, great pick!

  • Mariel

    Wow - Thank you very much!

    I am from Germany and enjoy reading all these stories of inspiring women - it is so intimate, authentic and makes you excited and calm at the same time because all these women have their secrets and are just human beings.

    Iris seems to be a wonderful person. She made me laugh and a little sentimental too (old New York..).

  • ELISE

    This is simply just a gemstone. I love older people so much. Great job, Emily!

  • Oliviascott

    i love her. she is just too adorable.

  • Elisa

    It's not you -- Mistouko has changed! (A number of times)

  • http://www.littleredbook-thatshaute.blogspot.com/ Little Red Book

    This post is so inspirational, she is a true treasure and genuine lady of style. (and intellect)

    http://www.littleredbook-thatshaute.blogspot.com

  • Jbornste

    Sorry, but the lipstick looks as ridiculous as the heavy makeup she freely decries on others. Further, I fail to see why so many here are so impressed. It's great that she's active and people are listening to what she says...but I'd prefer that she didn't parrot the same b.s. about what one should do and should not do at x or y years. "Age appropriate" is all in the media's head; it may seep into yours, but I refuse to let it infiltrate mine.

    I''m 44 and have long hair, which I've been told I should cut, you know, "because". Seriously? Are you worried I'm deceiving prospective mates about the health of my ovaries? Should I wear a shroud, too? Stop looking for a life partner who, as a male, might be attracted to my long hair (which I personally adore having) and start looking for a cemetery plot? Please, Age Prescriptivists, do tell me how to behave in light of my imminent demise!

  • Shubana

    Fantastic article. Great style and sense of humour ;)

    http://coeurdecors.blogspot.com/

  • Beauty Thestreet

    Great interview I enjoyed it! She is def a beautiful woman both inside and out I look forward to more interviews with women in their 80s and 90s like this one! Cheers! xo

  • amyshill216

    FANTASTIC!

  • http://www.cagedwonder.blogspot.com/ The Minx

    this interview is amazing, my favorite by far of all the ones on ITG. Ms. Apfel is simply inspiring.

  • Lilla Hornyak

    I love Iris! Thank you for making this post :)

    http://31west54thstreet.blogspot.com/

  • http://leidernooitvolger.blogspot.com/ nina

    wish she were my grandma!

  • http://despitecolor.blogspot.com/ Despite Color

    Adorable, and very interesting!

    Love Iben

  • Elf76

    Oh my God, I cant believe you managed to get THIS LADY to confess her beauty regime!!!! Hats off for you!

  • http://boudoirdelamode.wordpress.com/ Boudoir de la Mode – Graziela

    This woman is a well of wisdom. Some of the things she says here reminds me so much of my grandmother. Basically it's all about dropping the bull$@*# and moving on with your life. So many people get caught up in being cool, being important and forget to truly live.
    Iris has an incredible sense of who she truly is ... if we could all be like that the world would be a much better place.

  • wendy baker

    whenever i have a fashion choice to make, i like to consider this..."what would Iris do?". it all comes nicely into focus.
    embellish, be practical and be honest as you can with yourself.

  • http://lacoquettedumode.wordpress.com/ Kathryn

    She truly is an inspiration! I can't wait to see her MAC collection!

    XX Kathryn

    http://lacoquettedelamode.wordpress.com/

  • Gina Pieri

    Down to earth and inspiring!

  • Jessica

    I love Iris! Wonderful article!

  • Natalie Chernow

    This has to be the most wonderful interview with Iris that I have read. She is an awesome lady, charming and beautiful. Stay well and happy for many more years.
    Love to you and Carl,
    Natalie

  • http://twitter.com/ShantelRousseau sr.

    I loved reading this! Great article!

  • Julie

    Don't you think lipstick IS eye makeup? You where 90 well. I want to drink your water!

  • Abraham Dewanggana

    I stopped liking and respecting her after that jewelry plagiarism case.. Not cool.

  • amelia

    what a role model. thankyou, ITG.

  • http://thebeautyphilosopher.com/ Thebeautyphilosopher

    Wow what a coup to have Iris featured! Even before I read her piece I thought to myself: I bet she's one of those innately stylish and youthful women who hardly use anything on their skin and I was right! Very refreshing.

  • Lisa C

    Love this! Love the photos :)!

  • Candace

    This is probably the best interview I have read on here thus far, it's very invigorating and inspiring to read a 90 year old woman's interview! She is amazing, stylish and fun, clearly, she kept her youth and it shows through and through.

  • Guest

    I have had the pleasure of meeting her and her husband. They are such lovely, down-to-earth people. It's a pleasure finding her here!

  • Marla

    Emily, Iris is a beautiful woman over 40. Thank you for including her, she is a wonder to behold and I had no clue that she was 90!

  • http://twitter.com/dellephant Delphine Tomes

    Beautiful! Would I be allowed to post some of these photos, with context, to http://goldenaged.tumblr.com/ ? You would, of course, be creditted!

  • Chris Young

    Love it!!!

  • aurora

    I really hope they will be with us in February. Iris is fantastic and really clever. I am so glad to have read this. Dear Iris, you are awesome.

  • Anonymous

    I love how this had almost nothing to do with her "topshelf," but was so fun to read anyways!

  • Gudrun

    your best post ever. Thank you!

  • Nsjnunu

    IRIS is the original IT GIRL... Love that she has a copy of The Limerick in her bathroom...gave my copy away years ago.. Go IRIS, you're a role model for everyone of us--just hitting my 60th decade, and I needed another role model-- you're it! But I won't be getting a tatoo-- at my age it would have the turtle effect....

  • N.M.

    She's divine, great read.

  • Shawnee Rajala

    what a wonderful article. i adore her! to being forever fabulous..cheers! xx

  • Annette

    Love, love, love the candid snapshot of this iconic woman!

  • Edinburbler
  • Sabrinacombs

    I love it!

  • Anonymous

    Love her opinions of gray hair and plastic surgery -- I agree on both counts. I wish I had the nerve to wear glasses like hers, but she is one of a kind anyway. Great article!

    http://thetimelessbeauty.com/index.php

  • ClunyGrey

    I am 61 and you are my role model and my inspiration!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosiesouter.paschall Rosie Souter Paschall

    Now this is a real woman, vibrant and passionate through and through, wow!

  • http://thefortyexpress.wordpress.com/ Marcie

    Nicely written. Enjoyed reading.

  • Lauracoxson

    We are working on a film of Iris! https://vimeo.com/45590129

  • Harriette

    G-d bless you both. You are to be admired. Love your fashion accessories. Thank you for sharing.

    Harriette Pereira

  • lana

    OH MY GOD SHE IS AMAZING!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Wasylyk/529203693 Joe Wasylyk

    Iris is an example to show others that even among seniors we are all different and not homogeneous like the rest of society likes to think. Let's try to be more senior-friendly and help all seniors to take their pre-retirement or retirement life to a higher level i.e. a more productive lifestyle which will benefit all of society.

  • http://www.thebeautyissue.com/ Julie | The Beauty Issue

    Love this woman.

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Dearest ITG Reader,

We're working on something new called Glossier. It's launching soon(!) and we want you to be the first to know updates.

xo, Emily