Outside, the sky is a crisp blue and cloudless, but when I meet Iris Apfel — icon, businesswoman, woman behind the very round glasses — on the first afternoon of New York Fashion week, her forecast is grim.
Apfel is perched on a settee in the Renaissance Midtown New York Hotel, where Cunard Line cruises has invited her to host a meet-and-greet to celebrate the biannual fashion event. She's dressed in a black-and-white coat, accented with feathers. Her wrists are covered in bracelets the size of Wonder Woman cuffs. She's 96, but she seems beyond time, like the Queen of England. And she's fed up — with fashion week, with sleeveless dresses, with the media's "really awful" treatment of Donald Trump. Wait, what?
More on that in a minute. In the meantime, New York Fashion Week, "a madhouse" this season, has been "very poorly organized" since it moved from Bryant Park in 2010. Now, people show "all over town," and it's "impossible" to leave one show in time to get to the next. Apfel has starred in ads for such brands as Kate Spade and Alexis Bittar, but it's obvious the fashion fixture has lost some of her enthusiasm for the business.
"Fashion is not what it used to be; there's really not much fashion anymore," she says. "It's become really rather commercial, and everybody copies everybody else." Much of what she sees strikes her as "same old, same old," evidence that people are too scared to take real risks. And yet despite her malaise, she still intends to see Naeem Khan's latest collection and is looking forward to Calvin Klein's presentation, which she does indeed attend a few hours after our interview.
But overall the state of fashion depresses her, and not even its resident enfant terribles can stoke her interest: "The problem is when they try to do something different, they do something so insane, like an overcoat with three sleeves." She declines to name names.
"Clothes are made to be worn," she continues. "They can be very beautiful and artistic." But they aren't themselves art, she maintains; they're fashion. And they need to be chosen with care, a concept that few seem to grasp. "People are so inappropriate," she says. In fact, "'appropriate' is a word that seems to have left the fashion lexicon." It's not that she takes such offense at "lounge-y clothes," which have their time and place. But she can't fathom why some people think it's acceptable to wear them to dinner parties.
I always say, for me, the worst fashion faux pas is looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else.
Still, Apfel remains an evangelist for personal expression, and when conversation turns to how women should dress to feel their best, she sits up a little taller and leans forward. "I always say, for me, the worst fashion faux pas is looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else," she says. "I mean, people who follow trends or buy labels, they may be very beautiful clothes, but they very often don't fit the person they're sitting on." And because "one size doesn't fit all," she wishes brands would treat plus-size and older women better. "The people who run fashion have made some terrible errors in my view," she says. And their obsession with youth is a particular insult, not least because it leads older women to look at clothes made for adolescents.
"They can't find anything else, and they think it will look beautiful, and they buy it and they look like a horse's ass," Apfel says. "It's ridiculous." Where are the dresses with sleeves, she demands. Where are the brands who will invest in this "enormous market with tremendous potential."
"I don't understand it," she says. "It's just appalling to me." And that's not all; there's so much she can't comprehend. "Everything is such a mess," she says. This is on Thursday, and Hurricane Irma is headed for her home in Florida. She's disconsolate, not only concerned for her house, but for her staff and friends. In the near century she's been alive, is she surprised to see where the country is now?
Yes! Of course! Apfel claims she doesn't like to discuss politics or faith, but she plows ahead. America's "political disaster" is not new. And what's more, she tells me, it's become more destructive — at least for most of the previous decade.
"I think we went through one of the worst presidents," Apfel continues. "The last eight years have been total disaster." And while the current president doesn't get her full-throated endorsement, "for what he has to work with and all the disgusting press they throw at him..." She shakes her head.
She deems most of it "lies," but "it's unbelievable" all the same. "I don't want to get started on how the press behaves," Apfel says, eyes fixed on the windows behind me. "Because it's been really awful."
It's not until she's surrounded by fans, posing for photos with all who want one — and many, many want one — that I realize, oh god, odds are Iris Apfel thinks Ivanka Trump is appropriate.