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Iris Apfel won’t shake my hand.
She’s feeling under the weather on a sunny Tuesday, tucked away in the corner of the lobby bar inside the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on Doheny Drive, drinking tea and trumpeting the Albert Maysles documentary about her life. (It’s titled Iris, of course.)
While keeping germs at bay, Apfel’s unique charms are spilling out all over that square table while she fields questions about the 80-minute Magnolia Pictures peek into her world from the late great Grey Gardens genius. The film itself (opening May 1 in L.A.) is a sweet treat: Apfel haggles for jewelry in Harlem from a wheelchair and recounts her love affair with her now-100-year-old husband Carl, while fashion heavyweights like Dries Van Noten dish on what secured her a place in fashion’s A-list.
It wasn’t until the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented “Rara Avis: Selections From the Iris Apfel Collection” in 2005 that she became a notable name and a recognizable force thanks to her trademark fashion sense. She’s now 93 years old but the explosion of mismatched prints and accessories punctuated by oversized spectacles still make her the best kind of spectacle. However, her energy, effusiveness and no nonsense attitude make her relatable and lovable, even if she won’t shake on it.
Her ensembles may be loud, but in person Apfel (dressed in a reversible coat from a Pakistani flea market and draped in more than three huge wooden necklaces and just as many bracelets of similar size) is quiet and chooses her words carefully. Just don’t ask her anything “dopey” because she isn’t afraid to swat down questions like a seasoned celebrity. Just wait, you’ll see.
I saw on Instagram that you had a fabulous tea yesterday. Can you tell me about that?
Lots of wonderful people were there. Cassandra Grey gave it in her beautiful house. It was a sit down tea for about 50 ladies in her backyard, which is like a gorgeous park. Simply beautiful. She was very sweet. There were some very important ladies there. I met Anjelica Huston and I’ve always admired her. I love the way she looks and she’s a good actress. I met Carole [Bayer] Sager who is adorable. The wife of the director of LACMA and a whole bunch of interesting ladies.
Do you like LA for that reason — all the interesting people?
I don’t know LA that much. I don’t know how many of those people are around but I’m sure there must be plenty of them. I haven’t come here in a long time. I used to come here twice a year when I was in the fabric business. But I never stayed too long because if you don’t know people in LA it can be very dreary and I didn’t like it very much. And I loved San Francisco so I would hurry up and get my business done here and then spend the extra time in San Francisco.
I told my very fashionable colleague that I was coming to see you today and she wanted to know if your neck ever hurts from wearing all those necklaces?
No, no. This is my turkey neck [as she grabs the front of her neck].
You do so many interviews in the documentary. What’s the one question you hate being asked?
I hate being asked how I met my husband and very personal questions like that. I don’t like that. People are too nosey. Intelligent questions I like, but sometimes people ask such silly, dopey ones.
I hope to give you some good ones then.
You haven’t asked a silly one yet. But we’re not finished.
What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you?
I can’t think of one.
Is there a celebrity’s style you really love?
No. Is there any? Seriously. First of all, I don’t follow it. I’m not fit to answer that. The ladies I met yesterday all looked lovely and I’m sure they dress well all the time.
Anyone you think needs a makeover?
That’s not my place to say.
How long does it take you to get dressed?
See, that’s a dopey question. I’m not answering.
I love that Dries Van Noten appears in the documentary. He’s so shy and doesn’t sit down often for interviews. How did you get him to appear?
I met Dries in the most interesting way. I was invited to a dinner party at Bergdorf’s and it was in honor of the opening of a new boutique for Dries Van Noten. And I thought, ‘What the devil am I being invited for?’ I was almost not going to go and then I went. I remember I was coming from another event and there weren’t any cabs and it was freezing. It was a long walk but I made it. I went to the bar to get a drink and someone came over and told me that there was someone who was dying to meet me, and they presented me to Dries and he said that when he got the invitation he was told that he could have anybody come to the party that he wanted. He said the only person that he wanted to come was me. We hit it off. He’s such a nice guy — a darling man. My friends in the fashion business are not typically fashion. They’re real people.
How many pairs of glasses do you have?
I never count.
When did the oversized style spark to you?
When I was a kid and I loved flea markets. Every time I saw an interesting looking spectacle frame, I bought them. They were for nothing then and I just put them in a box. I used to take them out every once in a while and put them on because I thought they were such an interesting accessory. I would wear them with no lenses which was kind of insane. And then when I needed glasses, I took the biggest pair I had and put lenses in. Everybody would say to me, ‘Whey do you wear such large ones?’ And I would say, ‘The bigger to see you.’ That shut ‘em up.
What happens to your clothing and accessories when you’re gone?
We’re working it out. It will all be properly shown.
You became famous later in life. Are you more appreciative of the the opportunities?
Do you feel like you’re living another lifetime?
Oh yes, my life is so different now. I was always known in my industry and I always enjoyed a modicum of popularity. Once I had the show at the MET, the last 10 years have been insanity. And especially now — it’s lunacy.
What’s the best part of being you?
I don’t know if there’s a best part. I’m happy. I give thanks every morning that I can get up, that I still have my husband with me. I’m extremely grateful. After all, how many 93-year-old cover girls do you know?
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