All credits to Vanity Fair:

The multihyphenate centenarian sat down with Vanity Fair on the set of her H&M photoshoot to discuss modeling, designing, and a secret to a long life.

Last September, Iris Apfel, in celebration of her 100th birthday weeks before, announced she had a new job as an H&M collaborator and the collection’s face. This is not the centenarian’s first modeling gig (she signed with IMG in 2019, and she has served as the cover girl for magazines like Dazed), nor is it her first collaboration, but it is her first modeling gig in which she’s flogging her own full collection, which will be available on April 14. “I just try to be myself,” she told me over video in November, while she was on the set of the shoot. “Wear what I like, style it the way I like it, and I hope that everybody else will like it.”

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Iris Apfel gets a touch up behind the scenes at the H&M shoot.

Apfel has plenty of practice at being herself on the job. I wondered, as one must when one encounters someone who’s seen so much life, what’s the secret to longevity? “There isn’t any secret,” she said. “I have to give great thanks to the man upstairs. And I have to try to be sensible and eat properly and not smoke anymore—I used to be a heavy smoker—and not drink. You know, don’t live a crazy life, but I think being involved and working very hard, at least for me, is a very, very important factor. I just love to work. It stimulates me.”

And about that work: The collection, made in her image, includes things like a “jacquard suit with peapod embroidery and pearl peas,” and “a voluminous frilled tulle jacket and a flouncy tiered skirt,” as well as a series of chunky costume jewelry, which Apfel famously stacks. She hopes what she’s chosen has the kind of range she has. “As I’ve said before, I have a fan base that starts at six years old and it doesn’t seem to know generations or ages,” Apfel said. “And so I tried to do a collection that would suit.”

Her ornate taste has served her well across decades and during the many iterations of her career. Along with her late husband, Carl, she started Old World Weavers in 1948, a couple years after they married, and created and sold fabrics based on their travels abroad (Apfel famously assisted nine presidencies in outfitting the White House, beginning with the Truman administration). As a testament to her influence and vision, in 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened an exhibition all about Apfel. It was called, “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel.”

Her perhaps inevitable internet fame, which brought her a whole new level of renown and appreciation outside the one she enjoyed in the city, arrived at the height of personal-style blogs in the waning hours hours of the aughts. And just in time too. By the time she was included in the much-feted coffee-table book Advanced Style, which featured older women who made an art of their eclectic style, a more paired-down taste was beginning to take hold. The millennial-pink creep had begun—Mansur Gavriel launched its bucket bag in 2013, Airbnb had settled on the minimal look it’d become known for by late 2012, and all the edges on things were beginning to disappear in favor of rounded aesthetics. Through the nadir of this paired-back period, she made the biographical documentary, Iris, with Albert Maysles. In short, Apfel barreled on with her prints and their multidecade references, and in so doing, made a nice bookmark, promising that we should just hold tight; there was a whole world just beyond this dip into minimalism. 

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Apfel offers a sneak peek of the accessories in the collection. COURTESY OF H&M.

And now we are back, it would seem. On the cusp of another spring, after a period of big change, it feels like the moment is ripe for self-expression. The personal, rather than the anonymous same-same of minimalism, has returned to the runways as in the streets, and Apfel has stayed ready.  “I can’t see how less could ever possibly be more, but I mean, if you go maximal, you gotta know what you’re doing, or you end up looking like a Christmas tree,” Apfel said. “You don’t know when to stop. And you gotta know just how much you can carry. It’s all, it’s all a matter of practice and common sense and just working at it and trying to be an individual.” Yes, effortlessness takes work, the introspective and intentional kind. “You have to learn who you are, and experiment if you don’t know, and try and not look like everybody else,” she said. “So I think there’s something there that various people can indulge.” And her favorite? “Well, I have a lot of favorite pieces. They’re all favorites actually. It’s like, who’s your favorite child?”  The collection will launch on H&M’s site and in select stores in the U.S. and Canada on April 14.
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