I Got Beauty Advice from Iris Apfel

Three years after the legend Iris Apfel gave me brutal fashion advice, I went back to get her take on beauty. By Karley Sciortino

It’s not normal that people rise to fashion fame in their 80s, but of course Iris Apfel is anything but normal. I first met Iris, the fashion icon, three years ago, when I interviewed her for the cover of Dazed and Confused. I was already in love with her, but I fell more in love with her after the interview—in part because of her brutal honesty. During a break in the interview, when I was asking her for some personal fashion advice, she told me that I dressed too slutty, basically… lol? Well, actually, she didn’t use the word “slutty,” but she did tell me that I looked “not elegant” and that I could do with being more conservative, that mystery is sexy, etc . I ended up really taking her advice to heart (I actually wrote a blog post about all of this at the time), threw out a bunch of my vagina-length see-through $13 Rainbow club slut dresses, and began to experiment with a slightly more sophisticated style. And now, three years later, I got the chance to have a phone convo with Iris. And this time I asked for some beauty advice :)

Iris is now 94, and has worn many hats in her colorful life, from textile tycoon, to interior designer, to businesswoman. It was in 2005 that she reached icon status, when New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art debuted an exhibition of her eccentric and beautiful wardrobe, Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Today, Iris does a ton of different things: she has her own makeup collection for MAC, a line of eyewear for Eyebobs, as well as a line of her quintessential bright, bold accessories for the Home Shopping Network. She’s also the subject of the new documentary Irisby the legendary documentarian, Albert Maysles. It’s now on Netflix and I highly recommend it!

Below is Iris’s take on beauty, as told to me:


Iris: “I’ve always dressed for myself. I’m not a rebel, I’m not out to damage or change the world, and I’m not try to offend anybody. But if the way I look displeases you, that’s your problem, not mine. You can’t please everybody. If you try to be everything to everybody, you’ll end up being nothing to no one.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, so of course style and beauty are connected. There’s all kind of beauty–savage beauty, sweet beauty, artificial beauty, even sexy beauty. But it’s all about point of view. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s cultural–every culture has its standards of beauty, and those standards change with time. What some primitive tribes consider beautiful we would consider hideous, and vice versa. And when we look back on styles from the past, sometimes we think ‘ugh, awful,’ and other times we think ‘how beautiful.’ But if everybody thought the same thing was beautiful, it would be pretty awful.  

Beauty is largely in your head. When you’re somebody who’s not a natural beauty, but you’re someone who’s attractive, in a way it’s about smoke and mirrors. There are certain things that I know look more attractive on me than others, and certain ways that my hair looks better. If you spend a little time on yourself, you usually get results. And confidence is very important. No matter how pretty you are, if you look ill at ease in your own skin, then you’re not going to look so beautiful. I think serenity can be a large part of someone’s beauty.

When I was younger, I thought Pauline de Rothschild was the bitter end, and Rosalind Russell was the cats meow. She used to play these career women and float into the office and pick up 3 phones at once. I loved the way they dressed her in the movies–she always has these beautiful fur boas.

The greatest fashion faux pas is looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else. So many people look so badly, in my view, because they try to emulate. They look at the beauties on the red carpet and they think that if they wear the same dress, or get the same hairdo, that they’re going to look like that. People don’t know who they are, or what they really look like, because if they did they wouldn’t commit some of the blunders that they do.

Experimenting is very important. When I was young I experimented a lot–I’d try things and look in the mirror, and if they didn’t look right I’d try something else. It takes a lot of time. At the start, even if you don’t do it consciously, unconsciously you emulate the people or things that you think look good. But then eventually, unless you’re a hack–if you’re a person who can look, feel, think and see–you eventually start to express yourself. It’s the same with writing, cooking, or anything else. It’s fundamental common sense; it’s not magic. People always think that I can tell them how to have style, but it doesn’t work that way. There’s no formula.”



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