I have a whole plan for when I’m 80. It involves a motorcycle, a great wardrobe, younger lovers and general eccentricity. Perhaps a greyhound and a sword-cane. All the things I don’t or can’t properly indulge in now (though I can drive said motorcycle). I’ve always found old women to be the epitome of cool. Their lives have made them a treasure trove of awesome stories, (I just got to hear my friend’s tales of her grandma’s life in Manchuria under the Japanese occupation… fascinating!) sage advice and shameless quirks. Most of all, 80 years on the planet pretty much guarantees that whatever clothes you end up . I’ve always loved seeing old Italian women when I’m home, in their perfectly refined coats and dresses, and aspire to dress like them. At the same time, I also find it endlessly apppealing when a woman has spent her life accumulating unique pieces and combining them in new and inspiring ways. That’s where Iris Apfel and her collection come in.
I remember first seeing her in a magazine spread a few years ago, and just fixating on her trademark big round glasses, which somehow managed to stand out to me through the splendid visual clamour of her clothing and jewelry. Then this weekend, amidst glorious girly bonding with one of my dearest friends, it was mentioned that there was an exhibition of her clothing at the marvellous Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. (Aside– if you’re ever in the area, go! The museum is a treasure trove of beautiful objects, and offers a fascinating insight into New England trade culture in the past, notably, beautiful Asian and Native American artwork.) We whipped out the laptops and rediscovered her and her wardrobe– along with paper dolls!– and spent a good couple hours poring over the website. Or rather, constructing ensembles of our own out of the things they had to play with.
There are many wonderful things about her– firstly, that she is not the idle society wife that springs to (my) mind when the words “clothing collection” are heard. She’s accumulated a lot of clothing, but she has also turned her eye for aesthetics outwards from the fun-filled costumes she crafts for herself to a successful career as an in-demand interior decorator. Aesthetics is a whole lifestyle with her.
She also started the Old World Weavers textile company with her husband, Carl, drawing inspiration from her widespread travels for their replica period fabrics.
What I love most of all about Iris’ approach to clothing is how she manages to break free of her pieces’ backgrounds and use them simply as colours and textures, rather than thinking she needs to stay married to a certain kind of look. The result, with all the unexpected elements is beautiful and unusual. I also really enjoy her stated dislike of fine jewellery. I’ve always found myself much more attracted to organic forms and semi-precious stones than to faceted gemstones (though I wouldn’t turn down an Indian-style necklace made of gemstones) and I applaud anyone who agrees with me on this. It’s a much more interesting look. And I covet this turquoise and bearclaw necklace intensely.
Anyway, poke around and enjoy these other excerpts from her wardrobe, and be sure to go to the Peabody Essex website and play with the paper dolls!
Travel outfit, made with Old World Weavers fabric, custom-woven on 19th century looms. Because why shouldn’t you travel in head-to-toe tiger-print velvet?
And on top of everything, she and her husband are the cutest couple ever: