I ran into an old friend at Lowe’s this weekend. It was quite a surprise for two reasons. First, she lives in NYC, and second, she’s 100 years old. You just don’t expect to run into centennials in the paint section of a hardware store on a wildfire-fueled smoky Saturday in Nevada. But there she was, Iris Apfel.
Then, again, you can find “my friend,” more accurately, my idol, fashion icon Iris Harriet Apfel, at any Lowe’s Home Improvement store these days. You see, Apfel, who turned 100 on August 29th, has just inked a deal with “fellow” centennial, Lowe’s, to curate four home design collections.
Now, Iris is obviously not appearing in Lowe’s all across the country, just as she wasn’t in my Reno’s store last weekend, but cardboard images and brochures of her will be brightening store aisles, and no doubt, customers’ faces for months to come as part of a designers/tastemakers series the hardware company has brought on board to promote the softer decor side of its business. It’s all part of Lowe’s celebration honoring its founding 100 years ago.
For Apfel, it’s just the latest venture for a savvy businesswoman who mixes a personal eclectic style with spunk — and what my people call chutzpah.
Iris Apfel – Businesswoman Extraordinaire
Iris and her late husband Carl ran Old World Weavers, a textile business that specialized in fabric reproductions from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in midtown Manhattan for 42 years. During that time, she worked on White House restoration projects for nine (!) presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.
And while Apfel’s career is impressive, her personal sense of fashion is what has attracted a legion of fans, including me.
In her travels around the world, Iris explored the ins and outs of thrift shops, souks, bazaars, antique shops, and workshops.
And with an eye for the whimsical, the exotic, the gorgeous, the glorious, and the downright silly, she shopped and she shopped — in the process, creating a collection of costume jewelry that is just plain fabulous.
Iris Apfel – Fashion Icon
While it’s hard to summarize the collection, art critic Roberta Smith offered this, “Before multiculturalism was a word, Mrs. Apfel was wearing it.”
Almost a century before, Oscar Wild said, “Either be a work of art or wear a work of art.”
To me, Iris Apfel is both.
And the art world agrees. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famed Costume Institute featured Apfel’s jewelry in a hugely successful show.
Iris’ new venture with Lowe’s is just the latest in a string of late-life adventures.
At 96, she became the oldest person to have a Barbie doll made in her image.
At 97, at the suggestion of designer and friend Tommy Hilfiger, she signed with IMG, the global modeling agency.
I’m writing about Iris for two reasons. First, I thought you’d enjoy reading about her. She’s a hoot.
Second, she’s an inspiration for all of us, but especially for those of us almost oldsters. When I spotted Iris in Lowe’s on Saturday, she gave me a sorely needed rush of joy. I’d pretty much been in a funk all week. Non-stop wildfires, the resultant horrible air quality, coupled with a cold-from-hell, had made me one morose middle-aged muddler!
Then, I saw Iris “standing there” on a placard, all decked out in her famous big black glasses and fantastic jewelry, hawking paint for Lowe’s. Celebrating her (and Lowe’s) 100th birthdays. Celebrating color and life. Who was I to complain?
Yes, Iris is an inspiration! I normally keep a copy of a book about Iris on my coffee table. Since we’ve moved last month, everything is a jumble, but thankfully I found it. I really need to keep it handy for those days when wildfires, colds, and the blahs get me.
Eclectic style. Spunk and chutzpah. Color and Iris Harriet Apfel. Just what every middle-aged muddler needs!
If you want to learn more about Iris Apfel, there’s a joyful 2014 documentary Iris by Albert Maysles, plus Eric Boman’s photo-filled book, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel which supplied most of the photos for this tribute to my favorite centennial fashion icon is a feast for the eyes!
Additional photo credits: Opening image, Money Magazine; and Iris in turquoise jewelry, Vanity Fair