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Iris Apfel Is Zooming at 100

Photo: Courtesy of H&M

On August 29, Iris Apfel turned 100 years old. Normally, the “geriatric starlet,” as she’s been called, doesn’t dwell on birthdays. Age is just a number, yada, yada, yada. But 100 is a pretty big one, and the occasion is, if nothing else, an excuse to throw a very big party.

On Thursday, Apfel celebrated her century of life on Earth with an event high in the sky at Central Park Tower. She wore a bright-yellow look with lots of ruffles, which she designed herself, in collaboration with H&M. It was a sneak peek of her full line with the brand, which will launch in early 2022.

Yes, Apfel has been busy Zooming with designers in Sweden for her collection this year, which features colorful, chunky jewelry and silk pajamas. While the rest of us can hardly muster the energy to put on pants, she’s been sending ideas back and forth and doling out 100 years’ worth of style advice. “I never take a break,” she told the Cut over the phone this week.

We spoke about everything from that time an Italian man threw her an impromptu birthday party to the worst trends of the last century.

First of all, happy birthday. Are you someone who likes celebrating birthdays, or is that not something that you normally do? 

It’s not that I don’t like it, my birthday just comes at such an awkward time of the year that it’s been hard to celebrate. I’ve had some lovely occasions, but in the past, we’ve always been traveling, and it’s hard to get a group together because it’s always just before Labor Day, or the kids are going back to school, or it’s a Jewish holiday or something. But I’m very happy about this year.

What’s the most memorable birthday party you’ve had in the last 100 years? 

I remember once being in Italy and going into a factory in Florence — I was doing a collection of wooden furniture at the time — and the guy said to me, how do you feel today? And I said, “Old.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Because it’s my birthday.” And he clapped his hands and in Italian he said, “Facciamo una festa!” In other words: “We’ll make a holiday!” So he had everybody stop working, and he called this charming kind of grocery store that had a little restaurant in the back overlooking the valley, and he had them do a lunch. And it was just so charming, and impromptu, with all these fresh goodies. It was really wonderful. I’ll remember that one forever.

That sounds great. Do you remember what how old you were on that birthday? 

I never think about age, so I don’t remember.

What do you think makes a good birthday party? 

The people. If the people are good, it can be in the woods. If it’s a bunch of duds, you could have the most spectacular setting and wonderful food, and the party will be nothing.

Photo: Courtesy of H&M

You’ve seen a lot in the last hundred years, but I would imagine that a global pandemic is new for you …

Yeah, nobody’s seen this. And I hope we’ll never see another one.

What has the last year been like for you? I read that you’ve been in Florida. 

I’ve been there almost two years. It’s been very pleasant, I must say. I have a beautiful apartment on a lake and a nice big terrace, so I don’t want for fresh air. And I had two lovely ladies taking care of me. I just was like a hermit, though. They treated me like a coddled egg. I couldn’t go out except to go to the doctor. So I was really like a hermit in a cave.

Has that been tough for you? Being a hermit?

Well, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t the worst thing. Staying well was the most important thing, and I’m very self-sufficient, so I did a lot of writing.

Has the pandemic changed the way that you dress at all? Do you think it will change the way people dress in general?

Well, it hasn’t changed the way I dress. I never really dressed up when I was at home because I was at home so rarely. So being in one of my many, many bathrobes is always very pleasant. Of course, when I go out, I dress. And I think it’s changed the way a lot of people dress because — listen, my girls have been shopping for clothes to wear to my birthday party, and they tell me that the stores are mostly selling informal clothes. It’s very hard to find, you know, proper clothing.

Do you think people miss dressing up? 

Oh, yes, I think they miss dressing up, because when you’re all dressed up and you look in the mirror, you feel like a different person. I think dressing adds a layer to your personality.

Do you miss dressing up at all or do you have enough nice bathrobes to keep you happy? 

Oh, I don’t miss it. I’ve been doing a lot of photo shoots, so I dress up plenty. But I know if I had to not dress at all I would feel very badly.

You wore an H&M dress you designed to your birthday party. Let’s talk about your collection. What was your design process like?

It was interesting work. I’ve never worked quite this way, very long distance. They do the designing in Sweden and we’ve done it all by Zoom. So it’s been a back-and-forth.

Can you tell me a little bit about what the collection looks like? 

There are lots of strong, bright colors. It’s a very happy line and a very practical line. You can do everything in my line, even swimming. It covers the gamut. There’ll be close to 20 pieces.

Wow. That must have been a lot of work. Do you ever take a break? 

Oh, I never take a break. I love to work.

How do you envision customers styling the pieces that you’ve designed? 

What I like about it is that it’s all very flexible. Almost everything can be bought as individual pieces, so a person has a chance to put her own stamp of individuality, which I hope she will do, and put it together in her own way. We’ll offer suggestions, of course, but I think it’s very adaptable. I like people to be themselves and to express themselves, and not all look like the crowd. God gave everybody a personality and a character, and they should enjoy and wallow in it, and not try to look like everybody else. So this collection gives you the opportunity to wear all H&M products, or mix them with your own clothes. I’ve worn this really spectacular, very bold and interesting jewelry from the collection that is priced so ridiculously low, and I’ve mixed it with my own collection. So you have all these possibilities.

Did you buy anything for yourself for your birthday? Did anybody give you any good gifts? 

Oh, yes, I’ve gotten some lovely gifts, and I will be buying something. I just have to have the time and clear my head and get a few shekels in my pocket. [Laughs.] I really don’t know what; I have to go and look. Thank God I don’t need anything.

What’s the worst trend that you’ve seen in the last 100 years?

The worst trend is the way people just walk out of the house as though they’re going to take a shower. They walk out in flip-flops and hardly any clothes on. The hairier and the fatter-chested the guys are, the less clothes they wear, it seems.

Iris Apfel Is Zooming at 100