Of all the inspired collaborations MAC Cosmetics have put out recently (Gareth Pugh, Daphne Guinness), their latest foray with the celebrated ‘geriatric starlet’, Iris Apfel seems like another bolt of fashion alchemy. Ever since the Metropolitan Museum put on “Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection”- a display of her wildly idiosyncratic and eccentric wardrobe at the Costume Institute in 2005, Apfel has enjoyed a late career renaissance (that has included designing jewellery with Alexis Bittar and being photographed by Bruce Weber for Italian Vogue) where most other nonagenarians would be more accustomed to taking it easy.
Her bird-inspired collection for MAC features an eyelash curler called Opulash (emulating her signature bouffant lashes) dramatic eyeshadows and traffic stopping bold lipsticks with names like Party Parrot and Pink Pigeon. For Apfel, even at 90 years old, she still makes that special effort: “Even if I don’t do anything else, I just use a lipstick – my mouth isn’t that big so it doesn’t take too long to slap it on.”
Dazed Digital: What are your first memories of makeup and its power to transform?
Iris Apfel: I guess when I was 17-18. A friend of mine had a very glamorous sister who was a fashion model. She took a look at me and said, “Oh you have beautiful eyes and you don’t do anything with that. Come with me.” so we went over to their place and she took out a tube of mustache wax. She took a bit of the wax out and lit a flame under it and it melted and she layered it and layered it over my eyelashes and it really looked great. My eyelashes looked like Miss Piggy’s – very long and very full. I adopted that and I used to wear very heavy eye makeup and a very red mouth. It was very transformative.
DD: When did you first start collaborating with MAC? What appeals to you about working with MAC?
Iris Apfel: They were very kind. If I’m not mistaken I was recommended by Kim Hastreiter of Paper magazine. They called and asked if I was interested in doing something. I thought it was wonderful and I love doing creative things and I’d never done a makeup range before so it was quite fun.
DD: Tell us about how you developed the range?
Iris Apfel: They asked me what colours I liked. I explained that I don’t like a sheer lipstick – I like it heavy and matte. So they worked on the texture. I’m happy with the result – the colours are very clear and bright and bird-like. For I am the rare bird!
DD: You are being filmed for a documentary (by the Maysles brothers), shot a campaign for Coach and collaborated on a line of jewellery and clothes for HSN and now this MAC collab – how do you find the energy for it all?
Iris Apfel: I don’t know – I find it and I go go go and when I stop, I fall apart and I need to reassemble! When I’m doing it, I just love it.
DD: Rara Avis was the first exhibition at the Met devoted to the collection of a fashion enthusiast as opposed to designer. How did the exhibition at the Met change your life and how you were perceived by the fashion world?
Iris Apfel: It made me a geriatric starlet! I was always photographed when I went out but I never went out that much and I wasn’t much of a socialite. I just dressed because I enjoyed it and my husband enjoyed it. I’ve been buying interesting clothes all my life. The show never started out being a fashion show – it started out being a show about accessories. But (curator) Harold Koda came round and asked me to spare some outfits to show the accessories in the context. It started the whole Pandora’s box – they looked through my armoires and wardrobes. In the end it was all the galleries at the Costume Institute and 80-odd mannequins!
DD: Your look mixes high and street, ethnic influences and lots of costume jewellery and is always topped off by your signature glasses – did it take a lot of experimenting to arrive at the look or did it happen organically over the years?
Iris Apfel: Well it was a combination actually. I don’t do these things intellectually – I just feel it. It took a while to bring it to fruition and it was a bit of evolution and trial and error. I used to have to work at it and now I don’t. First you have to know who you are and then it becomes much easier to express yourself.
DD: What’s your advice to getting older gracefully?
Iris Apfel: Well just be yourself. I think Chanel said, “Nothing makes a woman look old that a woman trying to look young.” Dress appropriately and do your makeup appropriately and be yourself and you can look very chic. You can look beautiful at any age.