91-Year-Old Style Icon Iris Apfel Peddles Handbags, Not Advice

Iris Apfel unveiled her line "Extinctions" at Bloomingdales. | Photo by Julie PereiraThe word "legend" gets thrown around a lot these days, and in a world full of hyperbole and fawning interviews, it's hard to take that label seriously. But believe us when we say, the famously bespectacled Iris Apfel is every inch a legend. At 91 years old, Apfel has been monumentally influential in the worlds of interior décor, illustration, and style, and has even been honored with a retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Now, with her handbag line "Extinctions," Apfel has stepped out in to the design arena. The line features the nonagenarian's signature "more is more" aesthetic; with Mongolian lamb's wool purses in bright orange, fiery red, and cobalt blue, structured handbags in hunter green pony hair with geometric handles, and snake-print totes--all with a bright turquoise lining--this is a line we're seriously lusting over. We sat down with the legendary style icon to discuss her signature style, her new handbag line, and her ability to prove that style is ageless.

Thread: What fashion rules do you think are nonsense? 
Iris Apfel: I think most rules are nonsense. I mean, it depends. A few years ago they used to say if you were short and wide don't wear [horizontal] stripes. You just have to do what works for you.

T: How has your style evolved with age?
I.A.: I don't think about it.

T: What advice would you like to give to your younger self?

I.A.: Oh, I'm past the age of advice.

Sumputous bags from the "Extinctions" collection | Photo courtesy of Extinctions
T: What are your fashion must-haves?

I.A.: I must have accessories--I can't live without my accessories. I like tons of bracelets and bright lipstick and interesting eyeglasses. You know, I like simple, architectural clothing and then I like all the embellishments.

T: Any fashion regrets?

I.A.: No.

T: Who is the woman you're designing for with the "Extinctions" line?

I.A.: An ageless woman. She wants something practical but she likes some pizazz, and she wants it at a price. I think our price point is really fantastic. It's an awful lot of bag for the money. And it's beautifully made, it isn't shoddy at all...I'm a real bug about that.

T: Your Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective--and your jewelry line with HSN--were both called "Rara Avis," or "rare bird." What is it about birds that inspires you?

I.A.: There was a fabulous, famous guy at the Met and he always used to call me "The Rare Bird." And so they named the show "rara avis" which was "rare bird" in Latin, and it kind of stuck. And so I thought, birds are kind of fanciful and fun and it's a nice logo. And this line is called "Extinctions" and so we have a dodo [as the logo].

T: Who are your favorite modern designers?

I.A.: Oh, I like so many. I love Ralph Rucci's stuff. I like things that Oscar [de la Renta] does, I like things that Valentino does, Moschino--I could go on and on and on. Everybody has something I like, and everybody has something I can't wear. Besides which I have so much stuff I don't really shop anymore. When you've been around as long as I have been [you don't need to shop often].
We <3 snakeskin, and so does Iris Apfel. | Photo courtesy of Extinctions
T: You've done interior design work for The White House under nine presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton), did you have a favorite administration to work with?
I.A.: Well, you don't work with the Presidents, you work with the Fine Arts Commission. The President and the President's wife, despite Jackie [Kennedy's] hoopdedoo, have nothing to do with decorating The White House. When you do an historic restoration, it has to be exactly as it was, or as close as possible to the way it was, and if they allowed every President's wife to put her two cents in--can you imagine Mamie Eisenhower [decorating]? Oh, god. Upstairs, in their own quarters they can do whatever they like--that's their own, personal living quarters. But downstairs is The People's House. And it has to be, you know, the way it was.
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