Sunday, September 15, 2013


      Here's your latest weekly dose of inspiration from Creative Late Bloomers who first found success in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s and who are still going strong. Recent posts featured 96-year-old memoirist Diana Athill and Carmen Herrera, painting at 98. This week's creative late bloomer is 92-year-old fashion designer Iris Apfel.


HER LATE-BLOOMING STORY: Born in Queens on August 29, 1921, Apfel studied art history at New York University and art at the University of Wisconsin. She worked for Women's Wear Daily, interior designer Elinor Johnson and illustrator Robert Goodman before marrying Carl Apfel in 1948. From 1950-1992, she and her husband (who is now 99) ran Old World Weavers textile firm, participating in restoration projects for nine U.S. presidents, from Truman to Clinton. Developing her signature fashion style early on -- enormous black-rimmed glasses and exotic clothing described as "Fellini-esque" -- Apfel in 2005 (at age 74) came to the world's attention when the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute put her extravagant personal wardrobe on display. She now offers a fashion program at the University of Texas, Austin, has a makeup collection with MAC, is working on glasses for Eye-Bobs, has designed jewelry and other accessories under the label Rara Avis for Home Shopping Network and is on YOOX. "I'm a geriatric starlet, my dear, don't you know. All of a sudden, I'm hot; I'm cool; I have a 'fan base' ... I never thought that in my dotage that I'd have to find an entertainment lawyer," Apfel told the New York Times Up Close column.

Rare Bird of Fashion
Thames & Hudson (2007)
* On September 23 Apfel will offer her accessories -- bangles, scarves and beads -- on Home Shopping Network.
* She's the subject of a film portrait being prepared by Albert Maysles, author of the popular film "The Beales of Grey Gardens." (See trailer:
*This year Apfel was named one of 50 best-dressed over 50 by the Guardian. 
*A gallery of Apfel's clothes, accessories and furnishings is in the planning stages for the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History in Boynton Beach, Florida.

ON GROWING OLD: "Getting older ain't for sissies, I'll tell you...I have a dear friend whose mother's gone, but she was very funny. When I'd say 'Yuda, how do you feel?' she'd say 'Oh -- when I get up in the morning, everything I have two of, one hurts.' You have to push yourself when you're older, because it's very easy to fall into the trap. You start to fall apart--you just have to do your best to paste yourself together. I think doing things and being active is very important. When your mind is busy, you don't hurt so much. Thank God I love to do things. I feel blessed that I have all these opportunities at this stage in my life. I was always very busy with all kinds of stuff, and I'm very used to it -- but at ninety, I have all these new careers." (

NO ONE EVER SAID IT WOULD BE EASY: "I'm from New York. My grandparents were settlers of Long Island City. When they came here, there was no bridge and they had to hire a boat across the river. They had a farm and my grandmother had to go once a week to Manhattan to buy provisions -- very primitive. I grew up out there, and since I married we've lived in the city. So I'm definitely a New Yorker through and through. My mother was pretty glamorous, she was a working gal, but she was very glamorous. (Into the Gloss, 2012)
"Look at how many women in this country are depressed about how they look and how they think they have to look! It's really sad. And it's not about money. People with a lot of money don't dress as well as people who have to make do, who have to be inventive. Those are the people who are always more interestingly dressed, I think. Everything I do, I do with gut instinct. If I think too much, it won't come out right." (Architectural Digest, 2011)

WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP: "If you put something together and it doesn't look so good, the fashion police are not going to come take you away. And if they do, you might have some fun in jail," Apfel told 17-year-old blogger Tavi Gevinson, founder of the website Rookie. "I've been doing this for over 70 years, and I haven't changed," Apfel said when Gevinson asked her what it was like being a late bloomer. "I haven't changed my style, I haven't changed my thinking, I haven't changed my look, and now everybody's dancing up and down and jumping around. To say I don't enjoy it would be lying; it's very nice to have some adulation, deserved or not. But sometimes, when it happens too young, people think that everything is coming to them, that they're just so special, they don't have to do this and they don't have to do that, and they're so much better than everybody else -- and that's sad."