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Inside Style Icon Iris Apfel's Closet

The trendsetter has spent decades cultivating her unique style.

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Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel, photographed in her New York apartment.

Photo By John Aquino

During almost a century of globetrotting, Iris Apfel has acquired hundreds of pairs of shoes. So it’s no surprise that the style icon can’t pick her favorite pair.

“I love them all,” the 90-year-old told Footwear News in her Park Avenue apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. “I have memories with every one of them.”

Apfel was a successful interior designer and well-known trendsetter long before her 2005 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel,” which propelled her back into the fashion spotlight. The showcase of more than 80 of her ensembles and accessories spawned a myriad of projects for her, including jewelry collections with HSN and Yoox.com, a makeup line with MAC and a handbag offering, now on the way.

But while traveling the world with her husband, Carl, during the 1950s through the 1970s for their former textile and design company Old World Weavers, Apfel not only shopped the finest boutiques but often commissioned her own shoes and clothes. “I had access to all these fabulous fabrics,” she recalled. “When I had a dress made, I had shoes made to go with it.”

And working with local cobblers, she created many of her must-have styles. “When people were going to parties after-hours, I used to go to a cobbler’s little workroom,” Apfel said, noting that sometimes even the shoemaker wasn’t sure how to fulfill her requests. “We would sit there and figure it out.”

Still, the New Yorker admits she’s done her fair share of shopping over the years, too. “It’s the process I enjoy so much more than even wearing it,” she said. “I buy things I like, put them together and then it’s like I go shopping in my own boutique.”

Brands owned: Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Roger Vivier, Salvatore Ferragamo, Stuart Weitzman, Tod’s, Yves Saint Laurent, among others.

Personal style: “I don’t describe my style. That’s for somebody else to do.”

Most beloved designer:
Roger Vivier. “My god, I adore that man. When I was young and would go to Paris twice a year in the early 1950s, the first thing I did was sling my bags and run over to drool in front of his shop window.”

Oldest pair: “I have a pair of shoes I’ve had since before I was married, and we’ll be married 64 years this month. They’re Ferragamo and so fabulous. They’re on a very interesting wedge with brown suede and snake trim.”

Best city for custom shoes: “Naples, Italy, was a big shoe center in those days. There were a number of streets where nothing but findings and heels were sold. I used to creep around and buy the most fanciful heels and then try to design something to go with the heels. I had very avant-garde shoes.”

Look that will never go out of style: “If you have your own style, you can wear anything forever. I don’t care about being trendy, so for me, I wear pointy toes if round toes are in. It doesn’t make any difference to me [as long as] I like it.”

Worst trend: “Those big platforms and insanely high heels. They look like an orthopedist’s delight. I don’t see anything beautiful about them.”

Go-to style: “I like clean-looking shoes. I don’t mind if a shoe is embellished, but it has to be well designed. Manolo’s shoes seem perfectly designed. He knows what he’s doing. And there’s nothing that beats a classic pump.”

Biggest splurge: “There was a gorgeous pair of gold Vivier flats and the heels were [rhinestone studded]. I still have them. Those and a silver pair of Viviers were really a major investment for me. They weren’t even $100, but in those days, that was big money.”

Most memorable shoe moment: Meeting Roger Vivier at the Mario Valentino factory in Milan. “I have never been star-struck in my life, and I have met all kinds of people. I thought I was going to fall down and faint. They were going to do a collaboration, which never happened. [Vivier] was gorgeous — tall with iron-gray hair — and I was tongue-tied.”

Pair that best represents you: “There’s a pair of Puccis that a lot of people connect with me. I wore them in a picture that got a lot of exposure. I was lounging on the sofa. They’re short ankle boots with Pucci fabric.”

No. 1 style rule: “If your hair is done properly and you’re wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything.”