Move over models of the moment Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. The real star of Paris fashion week is a wise-cracking 94-year-old New Yorker.
“Someone once told me, ‘You are not pretty, and you never will be,'” Iris Apfel joked to reporters as she was whisked with the occasional aid of a wheelchair between a reception in her honour and yet another catwalk show. “But it doesn’t matter. You have something else — you have style.”
The flamboyant interior designer who was a fixture on front rows of Paris fashion shows for half a century is again the toast of the town.
Her very individual style is the subject an exhibition at the posh Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche, and she is the star of a new advertising campaign for the carmaker Citroen, as well as the face of the Australian label Blue Illusion’s “Ageless” range.
A fashion institution immediately recognisable by her oversized owlish glasses, Apfel’s fame spread beyond the style pages after the success of Albert Maysles’ 2014 documentary about her, “Iris”.
It helped to turn her into what she calls a “geriatric starlet”, with everyone from Alexander Wang to rapper Kanye West declaring themselves fans of the world’s chicest nonagenarian best known for her love of baubles.
In a year when mature women have been a common sight on the Paris catwalk, dominating the Undercover and Manish Arora shows, Apfel trailblazed for the much older woman.
– ‘She’s an inspiration’ –
“She represents the epitome of style and elegance. She’s perfection,” American model Leigh Lezark told a French TV channel after meeting her at the Dries Van Noten show.
The Belgian designer was equally effusive, telling her that he was “thinking about you” when he was creating his much-praised collection.
“She is a idol and an infinite source of inspiration for me,” he told Canal+. “I want everyone to live like her with grace and style. She wears the most amazing things. And she never wears the same thing twice.”
Never one to shy away from colour or unconventional silhouettes, Apfel urged young women at one gathering to abandon the modern “uniform of black tights or jeans with a sweater, boots and a leather bomber jacket.”
Instead she told them to “dare to be different. Be yourselves, be individual.
“If you wear something and it doesn’t work, don’t worry,” she quipped, “the style police are not going to arrest you.”
Museums have been falling over themselves for years to get their hands on the huge collection of couture Apfel has amassed over nearly seven decades, filling two floors of her Park Avenue apartment with work by the great designers of the 20th century.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum staged the first major retrospective of her wardrobe in 2005, with Apfel admitting she was as likely to pick up interesting jewellery in a Harlem junkshop as in Tiffany’s.
The key to enjoying life, she said, was to never stop working. “I haven’t,” she told guests at a reception in her honour at the American embassy in Paris.
“If I sat down it would be a disaster… People just roll over. Life can be very grey. You have to look at the better side of it and do things that help you and the world,” she added.
“Try new things. Don’t let age and numbers frighten you. You have to find your own bliss, be as individual as you can, and don’t go with the herd.”