When Iris Apfel walks into a room, you couldn’t miss her if you tried. Last night, to ring in her 100th year, the fashion icon and interior designer sauntered into a multimillion dollar apartment at the stunning Central Park Tower dressed head to toe in bright yellow: a frilly jacket reminiscent of an exotic bird, pants emblazoned with a “100” pattern, and loafers, all from her new collaboration with H&M, expected to drop in early 2022. When I ask about the inspiration for the eye-catching look, she cheekily responds “just getting up in the morning” then adds—with her trademark quippiness: “If you haven’t noticed, I like big and bold.” Before Apfel’s centennial celebration, she sat down exclusively with ELLE.com to discuss TikTok fashion trends, life lessons, and her latest venture into the world of fast fashion.
What prompted you to collaborate with H&M?
I think that people who want to have high style should have a chance [without] paying haute couture prices. I’ve always believed in that, and I think, particularly for young people, I’m always preaching individuality. H&M is fast fashion and really [has] a very moderate financial layout, and therefore they’re able to try and experiment and find out who they are and what they’re comfortable with. I think it was a perfect match.
Would you say that your style has evolved over the years at all?
No, it’s only gotten more so. I think style is in your DNA; I don’t think you can learn it. It’s there—you have to work hard to bring it out; it’s not gonna pop out by itself, but you can’t learn it. You can learn how to be very fashionably dressed and how to have a sense of fashion, but fashion and style are two entirely different things. There was an editor some time ago who said, “Fashion you can buy, but style you must possess.” Words of wisdom. [Laughs.]
What do you think is the most important part of an outfit?
The girl inside it, too often overlooked. People have a way of looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else, and then [they] buy an outfit that’s very trendy and in fashion whether it suits them or not. Big, big, big, big error.
Is there anyone from Gen Z with great style who’s catching your eye?
No one has caught my eye yet. I’m looking; I’m like Diogenes with the lantern.
What are your thoughts on TikTok?
It’s a little bit out of my age range.
Do you have a favorite piece from the collection?
There’s a beautiful green suit; I like everything about it. I think it’s a divine fabric and the workmanship is terrific—and the price is absolutely unbelievable! The trousers will be $99 and the jacket will be $199, and when you put it on, it looks like you stepped out of a haute couture [show]. It really does. The embroidery on it is sensational. Do you like it?
I love it! Have you always wanted to break into the fashion business?
The fashion business has just come of late; I was always in home furnishing. I didn’t get into the fashion business until after I did my first costume show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005. And then everybody swarmed all over me. Originally, I wanted to be in fashion—I thought I’d do editorial fashion; it didn’t work out, and I went into home furnishing where I was very happy for all those years. This was a great change. I’ve never had a business plan. Things just happen.
How do you plan to celebrate your birthday?
I hope to stay well and be able to enjoy it. At this time in my life, as [with] all times, you have to learn that good health is the most important thing, because without it, you can’t do anything. So I hope God is good and I behave myself and I’m able to continue, because I love working and I’d like to continue working and doing things and helping people.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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