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.
I 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 oversized 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 inspiration 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 wonder? 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?