Iris

Coco Chanel said “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Nobody needs to hear this more than I do, except I look in the mirror and go “Nah, it’s fabulous!” and maybe throw on a hat or a scarf before I leave.

My mother says I was always a fussy dresser. She abandoned the task to me when I was 2 because I complained about her lack of style. I knew which barrettes went with which dress, and when ruffled socks were appropriate, and when the tights with embroidered hearts would serve better. It was 1984: I was a material girl living in a material world.

Today I have a jewelry collection that’s taking over my house. I refer to it as “my sparkle wall” but only tradition keeps me from rightfully pluralizing it. Sean buys me diamonds and sapphires on birthdays and anniversaries and sometimes just on Tuesdays, but when I treat myself, it’s costume jewelry all the way, the bigger the better. I think Superbowl rings are modest. I think wrestling championship belts are understated. The dress doesn’t matter half as much as the height of the heels and the rhinestones on my cocktail ring. You know you have a problem when you’re at the store and the cashier asks “Are you a stylist?” It’s probably easier just nod yes and pretend these are for 20 models to wear in a magazine spread – maybe I’d even get a discount – but no, honey, these are all for me.

4e37cfaa-3606-11e5-_949112bI met my match – no, my better – recently when I watched a documentary entitled Iris. Iris Apfel is an American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon. She and her husband Carl travelled the world to discover unique items and get inspiration for their textile business, and they did restoration work at the White House for 9 presidents, from Truman to Clinton (Jackie O. preferred the “Frenchie” stuff, disappointingly).

Iris is known on the streets of New York for her distinctive style. Always with a pair of 1068406oversized owlish eyeglasses, she layers on jewelry in a way I can only admire but never emulate. It’s amazing to me that her 90-something year old arms can support the weight of so many chunky bracelets.  The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is so enamoured with her style, they put together an exhibition entitled Rare Bird: The Irreverent Iris Apfel. It was curated it with selections from her wardrobe and her accessories, and styled, of course, by Iris herself. Because Iris knows best. When the rest of the world is thinking “too much!” Iris is only getting started – and she’s right.

Iris isn’t just a fashion inspiration (or a  “geriatric starlet” as she would say) – she’s an boainspiration inspiration. The woman is 94 and still going strong. The documentary was done by Albert Maysles, who passed away earlier this year, just a month shy of the film’s release. And Carl sadly passed away in August, just three days shy of what would have been his 101st birthday. But these are all people living fully into their golden years, still being fabulous in whatever capacity they’re capable of. That really emboldens me. And I just like that she’s an outside the box thinker. And that her style reflects her upbeat personality. She looks different from everyone around her, and that takes courage.

She reminds me somewhat of Sean’s Granny, who is a fun and salty lady with her own unique style. Granny dresses exclusively in purple. I’m not even sure what store you go to for the purple pants, but she’s got em. How old do you have to be before you can just start doing that, I iriswonder? Granny is nearly 92 and as I’m new to the family, I’ve never known her any other way. She’s a great accessorizer to boot, and I know she sees a kindred spirit in me. Sean’s family is otherwise very traditional, they all look like they’ve stopped out of a Sears catalogue, and I’m just a very square peg to their very round holes. But both of his nonagenerian grandmothers have embraced me in ways no one else could. Granny has asked that I leave my jewelry collection to her in my will. Grandma likes to report back to her caregiver what outrageous hair colour I’m sporting on any given visit. Both will search me top to bottom for fresh ink. They were overjoyed when I sauntered down the aisle in black and fuchsia where there should only have been white. So maybe as you age, you become more yourself. More accepting of yourself, and less influenced by the opinions or judgements of others. And it’s that attitude that I like the best, in my adopted grandmothers, and in Iris Apfel, the star of a fascinating documentary you should look up on Netflix if you haven’t already, because they haven’t made one about Granny (yet).

 

 

 

Who’s the fashion plate in your family?

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23 thoughts on “Iris

  1. filmfunkel

    I can almost imagine her voice from those pictures…

    I wonder what being 90 will be like when I reach it – should I ever reach it.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I know. It’s hard to imagine. I was once speaking with Sean’s Grandma about a book we’d both read, and she didn’t like it because it was making fun of some ex-presidents, and she’d lived through all of their tenures. It was kind of crazy to put her life into perspective like that.

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  2. Everyday Adventures at Home... Hurrah!

    This was such a great post, Jay – made me laugh. I am also inspired by people who are vibrant into their golden years, and by people who have the courage to be authentic. And while I am not flamboyant, I do express myself and my values in other ways – such as my rather minimalist approach to life. (Although I did get my husband’s hopes up one year when I suddenly announced I was going to start dressing more flamboyantly. Haha… Sadly, I like comfortable clothes too much, so that was short lived.) I will be watching this documentary for sure. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Sean

    Iris is adorable and I agree with the comparisons you drew between her, you and Granny as far as your shared love of accessories! Granny definitely welcomes some company on that front to offset the pajamas and track suits that the rest of my family wears at get-togethers.

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  4. Sarca

    My mom’s name is Iris, so automatically, I am interested in this film.
    Best dressed in the family? Hm. I am going to say my aunt. She is a spinster who always had expensive taste. She always looks stylish and put together.
    I like to be comfortable. I also like to look nice. But no dresses for me, and I live in jeans. I am no fashion plate, at all. And, as I get older, I don’t want to look frumpy, or that I dress too young. (ok, I can’t believe I just said that…but I do! I have to worry about that now! I’m over the 40s!)

    You should post pics of your ink – I have none, so I like to live vicariously!

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  5. reocochran

    My Mom used to make her own stylish clothes, even her wedding dress which had a mid length silver satin gown with embroidered silver roses on it. I liked the scoop nevk and the pointed sleeves which had the “V” end on top of each wrist, “Juliet” sleeves. She painted beads with intricate patterns reminiscent of those Ukrainian eggs, Jay. Every dress or blouse and skirt had a jacket, beads or pins to match. The really bad thing, which I cannot help saying is, all those pointy high heeled shoes made her toes all get twisted up. My youngest daughter is a great fashionista. 🙂 I know this Iris film documentary would be great. Did you ever watch “NCIS?” The girl in the morgue was transformed and elegant in a Lifetime movie called “Coco Chanel.” Mom and I loved it, I rented from library.

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  6. StephLove

    That’s easy. My 9-year-old daughter. Until she was three and a half I dressed her mostly in her brother’s hand-me-downs and then she let me know that was not going to continue. (Although, every now and then she will have a tomboyish day and dip into his clothes, a few of which I kept for that contingency.)

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  7. DotedOn

    It’s NOT me 😀 I’m the total opposite. I’m plain and I kind of look like Steve Jobs ALWAYS wearing the same. I buy 3 of the kind in different colors so I don’t have to think or waste time (or go shopping, because I hate it!!) We are incredibly alike in many things and incredibly opposite in many others 🙂 It makes me laugh… And you kind of described my daughter, she thinks I don’t have style hahahahahaha 😀
    She makes me wear dresses on special occasions and loves anything shiny. I can’t fight her but I try… I cringe when she mixes and matches, my eye starts twitching 🙂
    I loved this post and I completely admire Iris and Granny 🙂 (I kind of have my craziness internally but it’s great when people have it externally). 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      I think my mother dresses better now and looks younger now than she did when I was a kid! The 90s were a nasty time for all of us.
      Her mother is also a terrible influence. She’s always telling us the latest style but the truth is she never shops anywhere other than the Sears catalogue – a department store that exists solely for old ladies. It;s the opposite of fashion, but that doesn’t stop her from having an opinion. She’s also obsessed with “dressing too young” or “too showy” etc etc.

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      1. DotedOn

        I’ll check the Sears catalogue… maybe it’s something for me 😀
        And I agree, the 90’s were horrible (starting about year ’86 I think, whit the strange hairdo’s and UGLY outfits…).

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  8. Birgit

    First, I applaud your hubby that he gets you diamonds and sapphires on occasion-lucky gal:) I am all costume jewelry that I can buy at Shoppers drug mart:) I love sparkly. I know iris and always thought she was fabulous. I saw her on Fashion Police (guilty pleasure admittance) and being interviewed on shows about fashion. She is no nonsense all the way. I would love to see this documentary but i don’t have netflix. I would say I am the fashion icon in my family. Now, that’s not saying much since my brother is colour-blind, my dad was a lumberman and my mom liked black and white together. My dad did like to dress up whenever he got the chance and would buy the latest in fashionable suits. Funny anecdote-my mom loved sailor style outfits-I loathe them. If there is an anchor on a button I hate it. When I was, maybe 4, my mom bought me a little skirt and top in white and navy blue that was all sailor looking. I remember looking to see if my mom was around, going into my closet, taking the outfit down and stomping all over it! I then put it back up in the closet. I say wear anything to your heart’s content and your wedding dress sounds fantastic!

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh my gosh, my little sister was made to wear a sailor suit as well! It was pants rather than a skirt I think…and did it have a little hat? I’ll have to ask her. What a weird trend. She’ll be glad to know she wasn’t the only victim.

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