The pandemic has cultivated an interesting list of quaint pastimes that are suddenly all the rage again. Baking bread. Tie-dying. Doing puzzles. It also includes coloring, which makes the new “IRIS The Coloring Book” all the more timely — and alluring, given that its subject is none other than style icon Iris Apfel.
But the book, which is out today and will benefit the University of Texas at Austin’s UT in NYC fashion program, was a project in the works long before the pandemic got everyone looking for ways to stay occupied at home. “It’s really been a gift of love and it’s because everybody loves Iris, and we’ve had a lot of alumni helping out,” said Nancy Prideaux, a professor at UT and the program’s director and cofounder. After organizing an event with Apfel in 2009, Prideaux and a group of her colleagues met with the style icon in New York and asked if she would be interested in hosting students for an immersive experience there. “We really wanted this to not be a surface fashion trip, we wanted it to be well rounded and academic, not about the flash of fashion designers,” Prideaux recalled. “And she really liked the idea.” Past program speakers include Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger and former Tapestry CEO Victor Luis.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the program, and while UT students will not be traveling to the Big Apple for Professor Apfel’s course this summer, they and others can still see her through the eyes of Kelly Framel, the UT alum and designer (and founder of the early style blog The Glamorai) who illustrated the book. The pages highlight Apfel’s bio as well as her favorite quips — and accessories. One page features a giant très Iris necklace on it, while another has a baroque wallpaper that reads “Fashion you can buy but style you must possess!”
On the occasion of the book’s release, FN caught up with the nonagenarian (who will turn 99 in August) to learn about what she has been up to in the past few months while sheltering in her apartment in Palm Beach, Fla. In her own words, here are 10 things Apfel has been doing at home, just like everyone else — but with a bit more style, of course.
1. Not dressing up
“I love to get dressed when I’m going out, but in general if I’m dressed up I can’t work. There seems to be some sort of disconnect. I have a million terry robes and things like that. I don’t like elegant — I mean I like it, but it’s not for me, fancy-schmancy underwear. I’ve always been like that.
I’m (also) wearing slippers. I love Chinese slippers. I also have those socks you get in the hospital that you can walk around in? So my feet are nice and comfy. They’re very good.”
2. Working on new projects
“Some friends of mine are doing books, so I’ve done a forward or captions. And I’m working on some interior design projects, but there’s no launch date yet because of what’s happening. It will be for sale through wholesale.”
My problem is not turning my creativity on, it’s turning it off. Fortunately I’m a major multitasker, I never like to do one thing at once, it makes me nervous.”
3. Getting exercise
“I’m a big walker, and while my terrace is large, it’s not large enough to walk. So I recently bought myself a treadmill and I’m just starting. I have to take baby steps and I feel like a real jerk. It’s my third time on it today, I managed a big seven minutes. I feel silly, you know, that I can’t do better. But I was told to proceed very slowly.”
4. Cleaning her closet
“I’m right in the middle of playing with my jewelry now. I have thousands — literally — thousands of pieces. Periodically I was doing trunk shows to get rid of some of it. I have a lot of it here and I really don’t have the place for it. I think if it works out in the fall I’ll do a big trunk show. I had to get out a lot of it and spread it out. I’m in the process of doing that now and seeing what I want to put in the sale and what I want to keep.
I did a big thing on my Instagram with closets (#IrisYourCloset). We still get pictures, we’ve had people from 70 countries, thousands of photographs. People have done remarkable things, I am just amazed. I love to encourage creativity.”
“It’s only recently, being in, that I’ve paid any attention to (Instagram). Frankly, I never look at it, but at least I’m involved in it. I do all the selecting and write all the captions. So that’s kept me very busy.
I try not to do too much about myself but to do things that are inclusive, where I can share with other people and bring them into it and so far it’s working.”
6. Keeping in touch with friends
“I have a lot of friends and I’m always working and running someplace. So for me, being in one place, it’s a phenomenon. (It’s been) millions of phone calls, I have friends all over the world. This morning I spoke to Hong Kong and Mexico and Italy. It’s interesting.”
7. Thinking of where she’d like to travel next
“I would love to go to India. We did most of our traveling in the summer, we would go to Europe in early or middle of June and come back at the end of Labor Day. We had to be at the mills until the end of July, and every time we planned to go to India there was a monsoon or something. So we never got there. We’ve been to lots of faraway places. We drove all over Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. That’s really the only way you see anything. I love that part of the world, it’s very colorful. I love markets and I love the souks.”
8. Going on HSN virtually
“We’re going to sell Friday, I’m doing a Zoom or Skype to promote some of my things on HSN. Nobody is allowed to visit there. Everything at HSN has been done that way, they don’t want anybody to travel, anybody to come in.
I imagine that a lot of people that have not shopped on the internet before are, out of necessity, learning how to do it (now).”
9. Pondering the state of the fashion industry
“I don’t think there’s any fashion left. There are very few original designers left anymore. People design by committee, and only want to design what’s selling. When they try to do something new it’s so outlandish. Once I took my Texas students to Chelsea Market, and they were all ‘oohing and ahhing,’ they thought it was so creative: some half-wit made a coat with three sleeves.
Years ago, I couldn’t wait to get the next Vogue or Harper’s (Bazaar), when people like (James) Galanos and the greats were working. It was always something exciting and refreshing and beautiful. But now there are designers that work very hard at making women look ugly.”
10. … And the state of social media
“People today all say the same things, they all try to look alike. It’s very boring. I think the bad thing about social media is that too many young people live vicariously through other people. I find young people totally incurious. They think if they press a button to get an answer, that is curiosity quelled. I don’t get it.
I think (now) is a perfect time to (be more creative). I think the book will do something with that. I think fashion is fun and I think color is fun, and I think if people realize that being creative can be fun, and can make you feel much better, much happier.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.