Hi lovely readers! Here’s something light and refreshing to start off your week. A short peek at one of my favorite Jewish ladies out there with “celeb” status – fashion icon, Iris Apfel. I think she’s just superb! Not only has she changed the fashion world and popular culture with her sense of style, elegance and creativity, but she has imbued the world with pearls of wisdom that the best of bubbies would give us. Plus, she has a sense of humor, and the world needs a lot of that.
She’s rarely identified as a Jewish woman by the press, but it doesn’t take much digging to learn that Iris Apfel is the only daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants, Samuel and Sadye Barrel. Plus, her wit, her outlook and joie de vivre, kind of gives it away too! ;-) Born in 1921, 94 year old Apfel grew up in Queens. She says that as a young woman, the Frieda Loehmann, founder of Loehmann’s department stores pulled her her aside at the store, and said to Apfel, “You’re not beautiful. You’ll never be beautiful. But you’ve got something better. You’ve got style.” ;-) It made me laugh. What a dose of Jewish honesty.
She married her husband of 67 years, Carl Apfel, in 1948. In 1950 they launched Old World Weavers. Their expertise at hunting the world for exquisite textiles, combined with her interior design abilities got them high caliber interior design and restoration contracts, including work at the White House under nine presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Raegan, and Clinton. They sold Old World Weavers to Stark in 1992.
Although she “retired” in 1992, she reached new levels of fame in the fashion world when the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art did an exhibit on her personal style and wardrobe, Rara Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, which not only led to a traveling exhibition, but to magazine covers, ad campaigns (MAC, Kate Spade New York, Blue Illusion, and DS3), an accessory line for the Home Shopping Network, and a documentary called Iris, released in 2015. Although she has homes in NYC and Palm Beach, she is also a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin since 2012.
Some might consider her eccentric, but few can deny that she has style. She goes by “her own rules,” which she admits are absolutely, none. Known to be one to dress up for the occasion, I can’t help but adore her confident use of color and accessories; how she’s always put together; and always remains true to her own style. Oh, and yes, I love that for years she’s carried her platinum hair with grace! (Older women with dark hair have never looked right to me. As though something is visually unbalanced.)
Although Apfel doesn’t deny her Jewishness, she doesn’t really talk about it too much. She did mention in an interview that she believes in G-d, but rarely attends synagogue. However, when you hear her talk, you can see some beautiful Jewish traits come through repeatedly – her confidence, drive, positive-can do attitude, work ethic, and belief in concepts like Hashgacha Pratit (although she does not call it that). Apfel also seems so humble, unassuming, and practical… yes, totally real. About to turn 95 years old, Apfel is still the savvy business woman, witty and sharp, and full of projects. Most recently, Apfel launched a campaign for WiseWear – fashionable, gadget-friendly wearables for seniors. Brilliant!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Jewish Fashion Icon Iris Apfel, or rather, I shall say, bubbie’s advice by Iris Apfel:
“I never did anything I was uncomfortable with.”
“People are being robbed of their imaginations—and everything else—with this button-pushing culture we have.”
“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.”
“I think trying to look like a spring chicken when you’re not, makes you look ridiculous.”
“I think if women put some more of the time and money they put on their wardrobe in their heads, they’d be better off.”
“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.”
“But what you’ve got to do is live in the present, which is what I have always done.”
“I think style implies originality and thoughtfulness and an expression of one’s self, not just being a fashion plate.”
“You must know who you are and then you’ll be happy. It takes a little work, a lot of work, I should say, but it really pays off.
When asked by a reporter from The Jezbel, “So what has made you happy in your life?”, Apfel answered:
“Being creative! When I do something creative and I finish it, I remember the wonderful feeling of maybe, writing an article or something and then taking it to the post office and sending it off and it felt so good. I love the process. It’s the process that I like. A very smart lady once said she had much more fun getting dressed to go to the party than going to the party. I like putting things together. I like finding things. I like learning about the things.”
You go, Iris Apfel. I can’t wait to see what lies in the years ahead for her. I think we all could use a Bubbie like her, right? And, I certainly hope that at 94, I’m up and running, building, creating and savoring life like her. ;-)
What about you? Are you a fan of Iris Apfel as well?