Iris Apfel: My style is the way it strikes you.

Iris Apfel. Photo by Thomas Shelby.

A note from our editor, Angie Fenton:

We know so many of you were excited to attend Monday’s Norton Healthcare event featuring Iris Apfel but just received the following news: “Due to an illness, Iris Apfel’s doctors have prohibited her from traveling. As a result, the Oct. 22 Go Confidently event is canceled. Norton Healthcare is working with Iris and her team to reschedule the event. We will honor all sponsorships and reservations for this event.”

By Josh Miller

At 97, Iris Apfel shows no signs of slowing down. “I don’t live back, I learned to live in the now,” she said during our recent conversation leading up to her sold-out appearance as part of Norton Healthcare’s Go Confidently speaker series.

We talked at length – bouncing from her style and attitude to advice from her mother and building a wardrobe that can travel with you for decades.

For years, I have been inspired by Iris’ style. To use a phrase from her book “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon,” she represents a “glorious amalgamation” of experiences. From her world travels to flea market and vintage finds to building a thriving textile business with her late husband, it all becomes visualized in the way she combines clothing and accessories in vibrant layers, shapes and textures. “That’s something I refuse to do,” she said after I asked her to define her style. “I don’t describe my style; that’s for other people to do. My style is the way it strikes you.”

She went on to describe going to her closet or drawers and finding something she’d forgotten about a long time ago, saying “It’s something more interesting than what I can find today.” I imagined her peering excitedly through her saucer-shaped spectacles at the veritable treasure trove representing a life collecting accessories from around the world.

“Everything affects me,” she said when I asked about her Rare Avis collection of accessories being sold through HSN. “Everything I come in contact with influences me, and so my travels and what I saw are a big influence.”

We meandered our way back to the theme of confidence. It’s “something you have to develop” she said. “Everybody operates at (a) different level. I’ve always spoken my mind. Sometimes, people would say it’s not the polite thing to do, but I always did.”

That self-assured spirit is the reason Norton Healthcare decided to bring her to Louisville. “This event was designed to inspire confidence, and Iris is the epitome of ‘going confidently.’ When you think of Iris, you think of a woman who boldly expresses her unique self,” said Lynnie Meyer, senior vice president and chief development officer for Norton Healthcare.

“I’ve never been (to Louisville),” Iris said. “(I’m) very excited!”

While she wasn’t sure exactly what she would wear to the Kentucky Derby if she were to attend, “I’d be wearing accessories, that’s for sure,” she said with a laugh.

For those who didn’t snag a ticket to see Iris Apfel in person, you can learn more about her through the responses below, and tune in live via Norton Healthcare’s Facebook page to watch her interview at 6 p.m. Oct. 22.

on taking risks:

“It just sort of happens,” said Iris. “I don’t plan anything. I didn’t have a business plan to be doing what I’m doing now. I just sort of role with the punches.”

on building a timeless wardrobe:

“I think you should always start with a few basic classics,” she explained. “A good pair of grey flannel trousers, black pants, some nice black tights, cashmere sweaters – you know, without embellishments. Basic clothes … so as your taste and your style changes, your clothes can change.”

on accessories:

“Accessories can make millions of outfits out of just a few,” Iris affirmed. “My mother taught me that. You know, I was a child of the Depression. She said, ‘If you have a good little black dress and a lot of different accessories, you’ll have a lot of different outfits.’ And I’ve done some museum shows proving the point. Everybody is always taken with it… they don’t think about it. You can go to the office in a pair of black trousers and a cashmere sweater, and by just changing your jewelry and shoes, a belt and other things, you can go from morning to night. You can go to luncheon, go to cocktails, go out to dinner – you can even go out to a black tie by gussying it up a little bit more. Changing from a flat to a high heel perhaps, wearing some dressy jewelry. I’m a great worshipper of accessories. They are the most transformative part of a woman’s wardrobe.”

on building your personal style:

“Find your style and build along the way,” she said. “If you find a style that’s good for you, it’s always good for you. You may have to change the length or the shoulders may change a little, but – I’m wearing the same clothes for 70 years!

“People should look for things pertaining to their own taste and their personality and what makes them happy. I would concentrate on accessories because it can make the wardrobe very personal.”

on longevity and happiness:

“It’s all a matter of attitude. Trying to think the glass is half full instead of half empty. I don’t analyze what I do, I work instantly – it comes from the gut. I think people analyze too much today … it makes things too clinical. The more you analyze, the more you can find what’s wrong. I find that for me, if it feels right, then I do it. If I have to think about it, analyze it, turn it upside down, it’s not for me.”

on selecting what to wear:

“Oh, my darling, I’m not a clotheshorse. I love fashion and I think it’s fun, but I do a lot of interesting things in my life, and I don’t have time for that nonsense. Occasionally, I plan a few things, and then usually, in the morning, I’m lucky to get up and I put on the first thing I see. Maybe I wore it the day before, I know it works well, so I do it all again. When I have time I like to fuss around, like if I’m going to a party or something. It’s more fun, (and) I always say – getting dressed up for the party (is more fun) than the party itself.”

on her lifelong fascination with spectacles:

“As a child, I was very curious. I went to yard sales and flea markets and whenever I saw interesting spectacles, I bought them and put them in a box. Growing up, I didn’t need glasses for a very long time. I would sometimes take them out and put the frames on and wear the frames because I thought they were such a great fashion accessory. Then, the day came when I did need glasses, so I went to the box and took the biggest pair I had. And I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to wear glasses. I’m going to wear GLASSES!’

“Everybody at that time was sort of shocked because no one wore such big frames,” she continued. “People would ask me all the time why I would wear them so large, and it got very annoying. So finally I said, ‘The reason I wear them so large is to see you (bigger).’ They laughed and didn’t bother me anymore.”

More on Norton Healthcare and their Go Confidently Series:

“At Norton Healthcare, we treat the whole person – mind, body and spirit,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Lynnie Meyer. “That mission is echoed in our Go Confidently speaker series. Our hope is that after Iris’ talk, people will walk away feeling more empowered to go confidently through life.”

Go Confidently is a tri-annual free motivational speaker series presented by the Norton Healthcare Foundation with support from sponsors, including McMasters Keith Butler Inc., Blue Grass MOTORSPORT, UBS, Atria Senior Living, Caretenders and Luxio Labs. VT

Go Confidently with Iris Apfel

The Olmsted

6 p.m Oct. 22

502.629.1234, opt. 4

Live stream the event at facebook.com/NortonHealthcare.

Josh Miller is an artist, cultural innovator and the co-founder and COO of IDEAS xLab. He was named to Louisville Business First’s Forty under 40 and serves as an advisor for the Derby Diversity & Business Summit and Communications Committee co-chair for the Louisville Health Advisory Board. He is a TEDx speaker, distance runner and photographer, documenting his journey through joshmiller.ventures.