One question everyone asks themselves as they grow up is “Who am I?” Finding the answer is a life-long process, as you discover your likes and dislikes, and what makes you distinctively you. It’s easy to just blend in with the crowd, but carving your identity – part of which is a personal style – gets easier and more natural as you get older.
While only you can find the unique voice, style, and that “something special” that sets you apart, it’s always useful to have expert advice. The name Iris Apfel may be unfamiliar, but it’s safe to bet if you saw a picture of her, you’d say, “Oh! Her!” At 95 years young, Apfel is a style icon; she was in Hong Kong last week for the Wisdom of Individuality exhibition held at the Landmark in Central. The exhibition showcases a collection of looks put together by the fashionista over the years.
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Here are 10 top tips from the high priestess of style – and someone who definitely knows who she is – on how to stay true to yourself.
1. “There is no substitute for experience.” Whether that’s honing your signature style or developing skills in your studies or, eventually, your career, everyone has to start at the very bottom and work their way up.
2. “I think it’s important to learn the history of anything ... So many fashion students think fashion started with Tom Ford,” Apfel joked at a private forum held last week for fashion students in Hong Kong. Apfel went on to stress that you can’t create something unique if you don’t know what came before you.
“The more you know, the stronger you become and more sure you are of yourself. Nothing can replace research. You can take all your button-pushing on the internet, and it doesn’t mean anything. Young people don’t know that. They think if they have a finger and a device, they know everything, but that isn’t true. You need to have background, solidity, grounding; and that’s what’s missing today: substance.”
3. When you want something, you have go and get it, because no one is going to hand it to you. “If I want to do something, I just do it. I’m a fast learner and I work very hard. If I have to work three nights in a row, I’ll do it. “
4. Speaking to the fashion students in the crowd, and anyone else who is tempted by the industry, Apfel said “Don’t get into it unless you’re sure you have a passion for it, and you’re ready to work hard. You need to be ready to work all night and not complain about it.”
5. Also: “To be a good designer, it’s a life job. It’s not a nine-to-five job. If that’s what you want, don’t bother.”
6. It's important not to dwell on mistakes. Instead, learn from them and move on. “I think the most important thing I learned is to live in the now.”
7. Don't try to be someone other than yourself to please another person. “You can't be all things to all people; or you'll be nothing to no one.”
8. Today, with social media influencing our perception of what's cool or beautiful, it's easy to want to imitate those who get millions of likes on Instagram. But don't become just another copy of someone's idea of what's in. As Apfel put it: “Don't bother learning trends; they change; learn who you are.”
9. When it comes to style, build a wardrobe that shows off your personality. That doesn't mean buying the biggest trend every few months. “People shop now and think they can buy things to wear a few times and throw away, and that's wrong. I'd rather buy a few good basics, and experiment with individuality with acessories.”
The good thing about quality basics is that they stand the test of time.
“I've kept the [designer Norman Norell] dress I wore on my first date with my husband,” Apfel says, referring to the late Carl Apfel, a textile businessman and Iris' husband of 67 years until his death in 2015 at the age of 100. “It's as chic now as it was then. And it still fits!”
10. “It's important to dress appropriately,” Apfel says, whether that's for your age, for the occasion or for the destination.
Bonus: “I think if God is good to you, you need to give back.”