The Eyes of Iris

You have to look in the mirror and see yourself. If it feels good, then I know it’s for me. I don’t dress to be stared at, I dress for myself. ~ Iris Apfel

She is a lady after my own heart. With a style all her own, an attitude that defied the expected and surpassed the delighted, Iris Apfel is a fashion icon in a world where true icons are fewer and further between. She’s made a career of wearing what she liked, and damn those who didn’t see the genius in it. It can be a lonely place, stepping outside of the mainstream notions of pretty or appropriate, but if she felt such loneliness she turned it into empowerment. It’s only right that one of the directors of ‘Grey Gardens’ – Albert Maysles – saw fit to do a documentary on Ms. Apfel. She possesses similar qualities to the ladies who made ‘Grey Gardens’ such a powerful film – a testament to the majesty of the unique, the righteousness of the individual, the courage of those who defy the tried and tread. ‘Iris’ was released a few months ago to great acclaim, and since that time I’ve been trying to fit it into the schedule.

This weekend, after missing out on showings in Boston and New York, I’ll be traveling to Portland, Maine to see it. There are only a few artists for whom I would travel this far – Madonna and director Albert Maysles are two of those few. Ms. Apfel herself is another, and she is nothing if not a walking work of art. A fearless, funny, fantastic fashionista who has turned her life into a living piece of beauty. Her clothes are flashy, her accessories are over-the-top, and her glasses are iconic, but it’s her spirit that really soars, catapulting the zest she feels for the colorful into certifiable inspiration, gloriously pure and incandescent.

Her indefatigable spirit and extensive bracelets and necklaces became a sort of armor, deflecting criticism and catty comments in the most gorgeous manner. Some days, I don’t find it easy to access that kind of power. Ms. Apfel somehow always managed to conjure it, and it’s a commendable quality to not care what anyone else thinks. (At my best, I’m getting close.)

I was never hurt by what anybody said about my clothes, because I dress to please myself. If somebody doesn’t like what I’m wearing, it’s their problem, not mine ~ Iris Apfel

Those oversized buggy eyeglasses, those ropes and ropes of beads, those rows and rows of bracelets, those insanely varied fabrics – they come together in the most brazen and bizarrely beautiful manner, connected by the brilliant visionary whose sole guiding impetus was a love for the new and the colorful. She’s also not afraid to try things out. Too many of us play it safe with our fashion choices, afraid to move beyond basic black or conservative neutrals, afraid it might make us look foolish – and though there is comfort in safety, there is no possibility to thrill. I admire someone who takes that chance to excite much more than someone who plays it safe and pretty.

I’m a hopeless romantic. I buy things because I fall in love with them. I never buy anything just because it’s valuable. My husband used to say I look at a piece of fabric and listen to the threads. It tells me a story. It sings me a song. I have to get a physical reaction when I buy something. A coup de foudre – a bolt of lightning. It’s fun to get knocked out that way! ~ Iris Apfel

In her 90’s, she is, perhaps, at the height of her power and influence, a living testament to the wisdom and style that can only be gained with age. It’s a slap in the face to the ageist, youth-centric way the world has always gone. It’s also a unique stand of defiance against the traditional and the typical, because as she freely admits, she never felt very pretty. Most of us who don’t feel very pretty make up for it in other ways. Maybe there’s an element of a mask to it all, maybe it’s a shield – a bright and bauble-filled sparkling shield – but in a way, it’s much deeper than that, transcending the superficial and turning the notion of fashion into a way of life. A fabulous way of life.

If you can’t be pretty, you have to learn to make yourself attractive. I found that all the pretty girls I went to high school with came to middle age as frumps, because they just got by with their pretty faces, so they never developed anything. They never learned how to be interesting. But if you are bereft of certain things, you have to make up for them in certain ways. Don’t you think? ~ Iris Apfel

Fashion you can buy, but style you possess. The key to style is learning who you are, which takes years. There’s no how-to road map to style. It’s about self-expression and, above all, attitude. ~ Iris Apfel

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