"Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon" book cover

“How to Live to Be 200”

I HAVE NO SECRETS to relay to you, dear reader, on the matter: the man upstairs has been very kind to me, and every year is another gift.

I never think about my age. Maybe that’s the ticket. I never think about it—it’s a passing thought. It’s just a number.

Some people eat a lot of yogurt and live to be 127. Some people smoke twelve cigars and drink a bottle of booze every day and they’re still out there, doing their thing. Every- one’s got their story.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Keeping company with younger people is a good idea. They know what’s going on—at least they think they do.

I’ve found that work is very healthy for me. I love what I do and I put my heart and soul into it. Since my husband died, I work even more to take my mind off his absence, which is good on one hand, but not so much on the other, when I push myself too hard.

It is true. Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies. You start falling apart, but you just have to buck up and paste yourself together. You may not like getting older, but what’s the alternative? You’re here—embrace it. I say put your experience to work, to give something back to other people. That’s one of the things I’m doing with the University of Texas at Austin, where I am a vis- iting professor. It’s true—they even gave me my own business cards. Hoop Dee Doo!

That all started when Sue Meller, an alumna and close friend of the university saw Rara Avis at the Peabody Essex Museum. She went crazy over the show and called me. We spoke for a while, and then she asked me if I would be interested in creating an under- graduate program for the School of Human Ecology’s Division of Textiles and Apparel. That sounded exciting, and I love an unusual challenge, so I agreed.

The school initially wanted me to introduce their students to designers and the fashion market, but I convinced them to expand their thinking, as I had just finished judging the designs of seniors’ graduation projects from the major fashion schools in New York, and I was appalled at the students’ lack of knowledge of the nonacademic fashion world. I told them that students needed to know that there are many other jobs other than designer or merchandiser. Fashion is a huge umbrella encompassing many areas, such as trend forecasting, licensing, archiving, styling, public relations, publishing, museum work, cosmetics, furs, jewelry, and so on. Interesting and lucrative jobs are available.

The school loved the idea but didn’t know how to implement it.

“Why don’t you do it?” they said.

Foolishly, I said yes without having a clue. I don’t know how I did it. I just did it, pulling together a glorious amalgamation of talent.

The program, UT at NYC, began in 2011 and was an instant success. It exposes the students to a veritable Who’s Who of the entire fashion-industry spectrum. As far as we know, it is the only university program of this scope with this caliber of executive and artistic talent in the industry in the United States, and it has become a valuable recruiting tool. The pro- gram has also been endowed in my name; this makes me really proud.

The students call it a life-changing experience. I’ll admit, though, the itinerary can get very intense; we take the troupe to an average of four or five companies and institutions a day. I work very hard at it and am extremely grateful to my many friends in the industry for never turning me down. Their generosity to the program has been astounding. While many of the students have gotten excellent positions, their achievements have been my greatest reward.

You only have one trip, and the present is all you’ve got. The past isn’t coming back, and the future isn’t here yet! So live each day as though it were your last. And one day you’ll be right.

Excerpt from “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon.” Copyright © 2018 and reprinted by permission of HarperCollins.

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