Iris Apfel H&M collection | interview-style

“If somebody told me 10 years ago I’d be doing this, I would have laughed and said, ‘You’re nuts!’” says Iris Apfel, when we meet on the set of Bazaar‘s photo-shoot at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The international style icon, who celebrated her 100th birthday last August, is a fervent believer in the power of serendipity. “I don’t have plans; I make it to the point. I’ve never had a business plan […] Things just happen, and I try to take advantage of them if I think they’re worthwhile. If something comes along and I like it, I’ll do it.”

Hence her unusually varied career path: Apfel first cut her teeth as a copywriter at Women’s Wear Daily, before taking a role as assistant to the interior designer Elinor Johnson. She married Carl Apfel, the love of her life, in 1948, and two years later they launched a textile firm together, Old World Weavers. Their work, which included restoration projects at the White House for nine successive US presidents, saw them travel the globe in search of unique and rare pieces – an experience to which Apfel partly attributes her varied sense of style.

Iris Apfel wears coat, from a selection, Gemy Maalouf. All accessories throughout, her own

Richard Phibbs

Although the couple closed the business upon their retirement in 1992, Apfel had no intention of resting on her laurels. Fame came late in life for her: in 2005, aged 84, she found herself the subject of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection’, which cemented her position in the fashion pantheon; and, at 96, she became the oldest person to have a Barbie made in her image.

The real joy with fashion comes from wearing exactly what you want

Since then, she has collaborated with brands from eBay to Etsy, and today she continues to juggle multiple commercial projects, including unveiling an exclusive collection of flamboyant designs for H&M, which will launch later this month. “It’s playful but also glamorous, and a bit over the top,” she says of the range, which features “beautiful jacquard fabrics, embroidery, ruffles, lovely prints, fringes for the fun of it, huge tulle swirls” and, of course , a rainbow of colours. “This is my tribute to freedom of style – proof that, as long as you’re true to yourself, you’ll look wonderful,” she adds. “The real joy with fashion comes from wearing exactly what you want so that, when you look in the mirror, you see you, not someone else. You can be refined, eccentric, original and a bit wild, all at once!”

iris call

Dress, from a selection, Carolina Herrera at Saks Fifth Avenue

Richard Phibbs

Such has been Apfel’s philosophy at every stage of his life. While she admits that turning a century old “feels spooky” (“Well, I’ve never been 100 before!”), she is characteristically relaxed about the aging process. “I think it’s foolish for women to hide their age and try to say they’re years younger than they are. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If God is good to you and gives you those years, you should celebrate them and not try to hide them,” she argues. “I think you just roll with the punches. So, actually, I feel the same way as I felt turning 99 or 73 – or 22!”

Apfel’s cheerful, no-nonsense approach to aging is typical of her optimistic outlook on life. When asked to name her greatest achievement, she says simply: “I’m most proud of being alive and being able to do interesting and creative work while helping people.” Is there anything she regrets, or wishes she had known earlier? “Nothing!” she answers firmly. “I don’t live backwards or forwards; I live in the now.” And now, it seems, is very much Iris Apfel’s time.

iris call

Dress, from a selection, Mira Mikati

Richard Phibbs

The Iris Apfel x H&M collection launches in stores and online on 31 March.

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