Iris Apfel, Rare Bird of Fashion
“Doing your own thing is very good… if you have a thing to do.” — Iris Apfel
Playful, eccentric, glamorous, wry, Iris Apfel has an eye for the shiny, feathered, glittering, colourful thing. Her apartments in Palm Beach and New York City are eclectic bower-birds’ nests, encrusted with things found in decades of visiting flea-markets, bazaars, estate sales and junk shops around the world.
But she is most famous for the way she decorates her own tiny frame. Why wear one necklace when you can wear four? Why put on a single bangle when you can sport ten? From her signature enormous round spectacles to her brightly-coloured slippers, Apfel’s unmistakable figure has become an inspiration for designers and stylists in the last decade.
Iris Apfel will be 101 in August.
Apfel started her career as an interior designer, then with her husband Carl, she moved on to the manufacture of choice fabrics. The Afpels were successful, well known within the high-end of interior design, recreating antique fabrics for, among others, the White House. Their work involved a lot of travel, looking for fabrics, and during those trips, Iris Apfel collected costume jewellery, eventually amassing one of the largest contemporary and vintage collections in the world. She was always a flamboyant and confident dresser.
And this is where it gets interesting from an astrological point of view. The Apfels retired. But about 13 years later, the Met museum phoned up Apfel. They were desperate: a show had been cancelled and they needed a quick, last-minute replacement. Iris Apfel: Rare Bird of Fashion was a word-of-mouth smash hit in autumn 2005 — and Iris’ second career began.
The show opened on her Uranus Return — she was 83 years young.
Since then she has been written up in the New York Timea and The Observer. Her advice is sought by style-lovers everywhere. She has designed a line of spectacles, inspired a line of cosmetics for MAC, shoes for Jimmy Choo, and numerous designers cite her as an inspiration. She’s the subject of a documentary and several books.She’s also become a fashion model featuring on the covers of Vogue, Elle and Dazed and more. Has she had plastic surgery? No way. The list of her achievements in the last decade is much longer — and this month fast fashion behemoth H&M is launching a line inspired by Apfel.
So an extraordinary new chapter was opened on that day in September 2005. At a time of life when most people have laid down their tools and are ready for a long rest, Apfel became famous, lauded, sought-after. Her housekeeper says she fields as many as 50 phone calls a day.
She is a mega-Virgo. That’s the sign of discrimination and making choices. Not this but that. And this is where Apfel’s intense creativity lies — in the choices she makes. Virgo is a wonderful sign for editors, who must cut and prune and criticise, and this is what she does with each look. She’s a formidable shopper, a sniffer of bargains, seeking the unique, the quirky, the absurd. This takes practice and dedication. Virgo is a practical earth sign too. Watch the documentary and you’ll see how Apfel loves to bargain.
In her previous career as a fabric designer, she was known for exquisite attention to craftsmanship and detail — these are both Virgoan characteristics — and that attention to detail is evident in her current incarnation as snazziest style-maven. You’ll find a lot of designers have a dash of Virgo: Tom Ford springs to mind.
It’s all about the eye, of course. She has the critical, quick eye that sees the diamanté’ dog brooch at the bottom of the basket, fishes it out and pairs it with a silk cat brooch and a Tibetan talisman. Her Sun looks straight at eccentric, outrageous Uranus in artistic, flowing Pisces. This is the key to her style — Virgo meets Pisces. Practical, discriminating earth meets visionary, imaginative Pisces. The precise small choice meets the universal: her accessories and clothes are from everywhere. She has clothes that have belonged to a Catholic priest and a Chinese shaman, as well as gorgeous outfits from 50 years of shopping in Paris.
The Moon in Cancer — we don’t know it’s precise position since there’s no birth time, but it must be close to Pluto — gives her a tremendous, maybe even photographic, memory. That’s something she needs with her enormous collection of clothes and accessories. And again, Pluto is laser-like, piercing, looking for a kind of authenticity.
Of course, her sense of theatre comes from the Neptune and Mars in Leo. Although, again Mars is paired with practical, logical Pallas Athena.
But what of Venus in Cancer? Venus is one of the two fashion planets, the other being Neptune. Venus in Cancer is sensual. Her style choices must be instinctive, emotional — and humorous. Venus in Cancer often likes a laugh — if only to keep the tears at bay — and hers makes a nice sextile to Jupiter.
That powerful Jupiter-Saturn conjunction may be one reason for her long life. There’s a Peter Pan quality to Apfel, which is one might attribute partly to Mercury-ruled Virgo. She calls herself the oldest teenager on the planet. It’s a shame there’s no birth-time, because she does feel like there might be a bit of Gemini in there. The huge owl glasses are, of course, classic Virgo too.
So after her Uranus return, Uranus continued through Pisces, opposing her Virgo planets, and then Neptune came into Pisces in 2010 shining his glamour across the Zodiac and singling out Iris. Just before then, in 2009, Apfel had her third Saturn Return, again, a time when most people are definitely hanging up the work apron and putting away the abacus.
Iris Apfel’s new line for H&M will be launched on 31 March.