Waiting for Iris Apfel to log on to Zoom to discuss her collaboration with H&M, which hits shops on 31 March, is a little like waiting for the Queen to pop up online. Half an hour later than planned, due to hold-ups on set for her high-street campaign shoot, Apfel’s signature bug-eyed spectacles and expertly coiffed white up-do eventually appear on screen. Then, the world’s best-dressed centenarian is off, waxing lyrical about her success as an older influencer, and landing deliciously delivered bon mots as she goes.
Iris, it transpires, is a longtime H&M shopper, and recalls a particularly good haul in Germany, the fruits of which she still wears now. “I love the idea of doing high and low,” she says of teaming pieces from the Swedish behemoth with haute hits from Bergdorf. Apfel, a former interior designer who rose to fame late in life after decorating the White House under various administrations with her husband, liked the idea of bringing her signature eclecticism to a wider audience. Those people who also “want to look a little bit different”, and don’t have a small fortune to spend on doing so. “To me, it was a perfect fit,” she explains of a collaboration putting the focus squarely on individualism.
“There’s not too much ‘fashion’ now unfortunately,” says the woman who shops at bargain basements and flea markets, high-end boutiques and haute couture ateliers, without prejudice. “When I was young, I used to sit and wait for the next batch of magazines to come out, so I could see what the designers were cooking up. Now, it’s all so homogenised; everyone copies everybody else and there’s hardly anything new.” Apfel’s high-octane colour-pop H&M edit is certainly an antidote to this; it’s a pleasant shock to the senses.
Retina-searing coords jostle for attention next to floral jacquard suiting and delightfully ruffled dresses – each a cacophony of textures and prints. Iris’s favourite piece is a “hard to describe” but “very interesting” jacket, which she wore to her 100th birthday party and “everyone loved”. Originally conceived to wear over a bathing suit, Apfel, a total chameleon with eccentricity in her DNA, prioritised adaptability in the capsule. “For me, the mix is everything,” she declares. “There’s something for everybody.” The accessories, encompassing wildlife motifs and treasures close to her heart, certainly facilitate the kind of flamboyance she has been craving after a year of robes, pyjamas and feeling like a “coddled egg”.
Looking like part of what she calls “the mob” or “the herd” is the definition of “unfashion” for this style icon brimming with personality. But, she insists, it doesn’t require the boldest look to stand out from the crowd. There are pieces in the H&M collection, from the printed silky coords to the louche kaftan-inspired dresses, that are unique in their own quiet way. “It’s the overall look that I think is important, because sometimes people wear too many wonderful things all together and they don’t go; it’s the way it’s blended,” she explains. Her parting words of wisdom? “Attitude, attitude, attitude.” Her H&M edit certainly has that in buckets.