Iris Apfel

Lessons From Iris Apfel

“You’re not pretty. You’ll never be pretty but that’s ok because you’ve got something that none of these other girls have. You’ve got style. And that’s better than pretty.”

Those are the slightly cutting words of one of Iris Apfel’s first bosses and have become somewhat of a mantra to the 93 year old fashion icon. I watched Iris, the documentary about her, at the Melbourne International Film Festival a couple of weeks ago and have been completely inspired ever since. I’ve been mulling over her words of wisdom and these are the lessons that have touched me the most.

Iris Apfel Dazed and Confused

True style is timeless…

With the rise of street style bloggers, it seems those “must-have” cult pieces are more abundant than ever. Iris says you should buy something because it speaks to you personally and because you’ll want to wear it forever, not because it happens to be on trend that season. I have been trying to take this approach to my wardrobe, selecting things of quality that I truly love and will last, rather than indulging in a fast fashion fix that I won’t want to wear next season.

Always be hustling…

Iris Apfel is 93 years old and must be one of the hardest working people in fashion. The documentary shows her flying around the country for interviews and appearances to promote her projects. Even before she became well-known for her style, she set up her own fabric business, where she learned to haggle with suppliers and market herself to magazines and wealthy clients. Iris shows that talent alone isn’t enough, you need to get yourself out there and hustle constantly to be a success. If she can work so hard in her nineties, what excuse do the rest of us have?

Iris Apfel

True inspiration comes from being yourself…

They say that all art is influenced by what came before but I think Iris has a true creativity. She trusts her own instincts and isn’t afraid to be a little out there. Who else would mix haute couture with plastic $5 jewellery from Harlem? As she says herself, “To me it’s not intellectual, it’s all gut”. Sometimes you just have to back yourself, the rest will follow.

Be curious and have a sense of humour…

It’s ironic how for a style icon, Iris doesn’t take fashion very seriously. As she says in the documentary, it’s better to be happy than well dressed. Some of the best moments were when she just plays with fashion, not using it to define her, but having fun and being silly. There’s so much to take from her attitude and not just for dressing. If accessories are a metaphor for life, Iris proves that you can never have too much of a good thing. And who cares what anyone else thinks anyway?

Life is short, buy the shoes

Do you think Iris sweats about wearing her Givenchy shoes out in the rain? Or eating off the fancy china? No, she fills her life with beautiful things and isn’t precious about them. I think the lesson is, if you work hard, you deserve to treat yourself. Leaving your favourite shoes in their box might mean they don’t get scuffed, but nothing can replace the joy of wearing them just because you feel like it.

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