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Get old, but don’t get boring

The wisdom of Iris Apfel

by Mia McCarthy

IN A WORLD that is increasingly threatened by the insidious rise of the sad beige aesthetic, Iris Apfel was a welcome grenade of colour and texture. “More is more and less is a bore,” she declared to an Instagram audience of over three million followers, representing a fraction of the wider fashion and style community who are celebrating her long and fabulously decorated life after her death on 1 March.

Apfel became a world-renowned icon of the fashion world after flouting many of its rules. She was visibly aged, wearing her grey hair, wrinkles, and outlandishly oversized glasses as boldly as she did her signature red lip. She signed her first modelling contract with IMG Models aged 97, insisting that retirement was a fate worse than death. “I don’t think a number should make any difference and make you stop working,” she said.

If Apfel’s hope was to inspire older women to embrace style, beauty, and work in old age, she was extraordinarily successful. After she went viral on social media as a self-proclaimed “geriatric influencer”, a crop of fashion influencers over the age of fifty bloomed on Instagram and TikTok. Now, the likes of microbiologist-turned-fashion-icon Grece Ghanem are walking the runway while Heidi Clements rocks an updated shag with salt-and-pepper locks, proving beyond doubt that confidence and style do not expire with age.

Apfel was a fashion icon, but she sharpened her remarkable eye for style in the world of interior design. She co-founded Old World Weavers in New York with her husband, Carl, shortly after their marriage and became the interior designers of choice for the White House. Old World Weavers did restoration work over the course of nine presidencies, a job that Apfel reports was the easiest of the lot as they generally only wanted to replicate what had been in place before.

The one exception, Apfel said, was Jacqueline Kennedy. “She employed a very famous Parisian designer to gussy up the house and make it real Frenchie, and the design community went bananas. After that, we had to throw it all out and start again. But I did like Mrs. Nixon. She was lovely.” One shudders to think what Apfel would say about millennial-age minimalism, a movement whose lesser crimes include rebranding beige as sand, taupe, fawn, stone, or wheat. 

Iris Apfel’s death should feel like a loss, but the legacy of her vivaciousness will enliven fashion and style for generations to come. It took courage and joy to flaunt a wardrobe like hers, a powerful inspiration in an industry that regularly falls prey to the dangers of ageism, conformity, and trying to make beige happen. 

Wear what you like, and wear it well.


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