The 94-year-old star of fashion shows

Interior designer Iris Apfel has been a fixture at Paris fashion shows for almost 50 years.
Interior designer Iris Apfel has been a fixture at Paris fashion shows for almost 50 years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Move over, 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 in front rows of Paris fashion shows for half a century is again the toast of the town, outshining models who are much younger than her, Hadid and Jenner, both 20.

Her individual style is the subject of an exhibition at the posh Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche, and she is the star of a new advertising campaign for carmaker Citroen, as well as the face of Australian label Blue Illusion's Ageless range.

A fashion institution immediately recognisable by her oversized owlish glasses, she has been famous 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 designer Alexander Wang to rapper Kanye West declaring themselves fans of the world's chicest nonagenarian.

In a year when mature women have been a common sight on the Paris catwalk, dominating the Undercover and Manish Arora shows, Apfel is a trailblazer for the much older woman.

"She represents the epitome of style and elegance. She's perfection," American model Leigh Lezark said after meeting her at the Dries van Noten show.

The Belgian designer was equally effusive, telling her he was "thinking about" her when he was creating his much-praised collection.

"She is an idol and an infinite source of inspiration for me," he said.

"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".

She said: "If you wear something and it doesn't work, don't worry. 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 almost 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 United States 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."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'The 94-year-old star of fashion shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe