Diane Gottlieb writes open-hearted stories about people in pain who choose to grow.

Iris and Tao: More Than Meets the Eye!

Whenever Someone Occupies Space in My Brain … She Has Something to Teach Me   I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve recently developed an obsession with older women. Not just older women but old women. Really old women—women in their 90s or older! I’m not exactly sure why (and obsessed may be too strong a word), but those nonagenarians have been popping into my consciousness—and onto my newsfeeds—quite a bit lately.   Whenever someone occupies space in my brain for no immediate reason I can identify, I take it as a sign that she has something to teach me. And the two women I am going to highlight, both newly signed fashion models, are no exception!   First, there’s Iris Apfel. She’s 97! And, just last she week signed a modeling contract with IMC. Ms. Apfel is not brand new to fame—she was the subject of a very popular exhibit called Rara Avis at none other than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan in 2005. It featured her clothing and accessories, received a glorious review in the New York Times, and made quite a splash.  

“I never expect anything. I just feel things in my gut and I do them”

  Ms. Apfel’s book Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon is part memoir, part life advice, and was published last year. It contains inspiring words of wisdom and is chock full of lessons we can all learn from.     The introduction of Accidental Icon consists of several sentences, all of which Ms. Apfel begins with the words “I NEVER EXPECTED.” Here are just a few of the things that Ms. Apfel “never expected,” but have nonetheless come to pass:
  • She never expected to become a recognized name and face
  • That she would be considered a fashion icon
  • Or that the Met would dedicate an exhibit to her clothes!
  • She never expected that she’d be the subject of an Emmy nominated documentary—it is, of course, called Iris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCfgwjB8_gU
  • That she’d be the face of a cosmetics company and the fashion inspiration for a line of Barbies
  • Or that she’d ever write a book
“I never expect anything,” Ms. Apfel says, “I just feel things in my gut and I do them.”  

“If you’re not risking, you’re not living” 

  If I had to state the major take-away of the book in one word, it would have to be “act”! Ms. Apfel doesn’t believe in sitting around, over-analyzing, or catastrophizing. She, instead, puts herself out there, takes action–and risks:   “If you’re not risking,” Ms. Apfel says, “you’re not living.  It never hurts to take a risk, to try something new.” Starting a new company is the perfect example. Ms. Apfel can trace her love of fabrics back to when she was a child. Whenever she would visit her grandmother in Queens, little Iris would arrange her grandmother’s fabric swatches into different patterns, for hours, As an adult, Ms. Apfel wanted to start a fabric business, so … in 1950, she, along with her husband (who would be her partner for 68 years) took the plunge: “I just figured out how to do it. If I had thought about opening Old World Weavers too much, I probably would have thought only of the pitfalls and then I probably wouldn’t have pursued my dream. Sometimes you just have to take action, even if it’s a small step.”   Old World Weavers became an extremely successful business. Ms. Apfel and her husband traveled Europe to find the most wonderful fabrics and patterns to replicate for their own lines. Ms. Apfel was not only hired to decorate the homes of big-time celebrities, such as Greta Garbo, but the couple who founded Old World Weavers  also spent a good deal of time at the White House, where they worked on design restoration projects for nine presidents from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton.  

“Although I’m in My 90s, I Still Feel Like I’m 5 ½ Because I Always Look at the World Like I’m Discovering It for the First Time”

    While Ms. Apfel is in her late 90s, she maintains what many would call a youthful spirit. I would call it an undying sense of wonder and curiosity, the two traits (along with a sense of humor) that Ms. Apfel calls “her tonic.” It is this spirit, this eagerness to learn, always, that keeps her vibrant and excited about each new day: “Although I’m in my 90s, I still feel like I’m 5 ½ because I always look at the world like I’m discovering it for the first time.”  

“Girls Who Looked Like Me, Realized They Had to Develop Themselves in Other Ways to Get Along in the World”  

  Ms. Apfel has strong opinions! Although she is herself an icon, she is not impressed by our cultural obsession with the famous and with fame for fame’s sake: “The obsession with the superficial reminds me of all the young ladies I went to school with who were pretty—the girls who had perfect hair, the ones who dated the football players, the prom queens. Because they were pretty, they relied totally on their looks to get along. And they didn’t grow in any other way, unlike girls who looked like me, who realized they had to develop themselves in other ways to get along in the world.”   Finding “other ways” is her M.O.! Ms. Apfel has never tried to fit in. She developed her own style—and then some. Ms. Apfel loves color, big bright accessories, and is known for her oversize, signature owl glasses. (Before she needed a prescription, she would wear frames without lenses because she liked the look!)  

“You Have to Know Yourself Before You Can Find Your Own Style.”

  [caption id="attachment_791" align="alignright" width="155"] Iris Apfel Barbie Doll[/caption] To Ms. Apfel, style and attitude go hand-in-hand–but so does a deep level of self-knowledge: “The worst fashion faux pas is looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else. You have to know yourself before you can find your own style.”   I truly believe that it’s not so much what Ms. Apfel puts together in terms of clothing and accessories but how she puts them together that has so endeared her to the world. Ms. Apfel unabashedly walks out in the morning with a bold announcement to the world: “HERE I AM! And I’m proud of it!” It’s her attitude that shines through all the layers of accoutrements. And the world embraces her for her moxie!  

The “Power of She”

Another “geriatric starlet” (Ms. Apfel’s self-description) is much quieter in her approach but is just as strong and vibrant. Tao Porchon-Lynch is a few years Ms. Apfel’s senior—she celebrated her 100th birthday in August of 2018! Still, Ms. Porchon-Lynch is a sought-after yogi, who travels the world to give classes and workshops, and who in 2016 signed on with Athleta, a brand of Gap Inc. to model yoga clothes in their “Power of She” ad campaign. As some of you may know, I used to work as a yoga instructor in Westchester County, New York. About twenty years ago, I had the honor of taking several classes with Ms. Porchon-Lynch, who was impressive even then—an amazing yoga teacher in her late 70s! I recall her sharing with the class that she was also a competitive ballroom dancer (she actually was a contestant on America’s Got Talent in 2015) and a wine connoisseur. (She and her late husband founded The American Wine Society.) [caption id="attachment_778" align="aligncenter" width="518"] Tao Porchon-Lynch[/caption] According to an NBC profile of Ms. Porchon-Lynch, she is one of a handful of people still alive who marched with Gandhi in India, her birthplace. She later helped hundreds of Jews escaped the Nazi’s when she lived in France, and when she came to the United States, she became an actress, appearing with celebrities like Bob Hope. (You can access the NBC piece on her website https://taoporchonlynch.com.) Ms. Porchon-Lynch has her own sense of style when it comes to her attire. She only wears high heels! (She even claims to have climbed Machu Picchu in heels!) But, like Ms. Apfel, Ms. Porchon-Lynch’s style is more about her messages to the world: At 100 years old, she is very much alive, thank you! Vibrancy, health, and sense of adventure don’t have to end at an arbitrary number but can continue for all of our days. Ms. Porchon-Lynch has never uttered the words “I can’t do that,” and she still wakes up each morning with this thought: “Today is going to be the best day of my life.” Women like Ms. Apfel and Ms. Porchon-Lynch are becoming a new type of “rock star.” People of all ages are inspired by their zest for life and are learning a great deal from their examples. Maybe the world is finally ready to embrace a more positive image of aging! As one yoga instructor Kelly Kamm expressed in a 2016 New York Times profile of Ms. Porchon-Lynch, it’s the cookie-cutter model image that is getting old: “I think that people were so hungry for someone to look up to who wasn’t a young, skinny, blond yogi in a bra top. There is just so much of that. Then came someone who was the opposite of that. Then came Täo.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/fashion/tao-porchon-lynch-oldest-living-yoga-celebrity.html Yay for Ms. Porchon-Lynch and for Ms. Apfel!  

Fashion, Style, and Attitude! What’s Yours?

  Fashion and style. And attitude.
  • What’s yours? (Mine’s kind of hippie-ish, yogi-ish, or a cross between the two.)
  • What are you wearing when you’re feeling your very best? (I’d have to say red lipstick and a drop-dead tan.)
  • What color or colors speak to you—and speak your name? (Definitely, royal blue for me—it highlights my eyes!)
  • When was the last time you left the house with ATTITUDE and a healthy dose of “I’m Here, World—Whacha You Going to Do About It?” (Hmmm. It’s been wayyyyy too long! I have to get working on that!)
  I’d LOVE to hear about your style—and your message to the world! Please leave a comment or shoot me an email. And if you liked this post, please share!   One last question: Now that you’ve met two older women who walk the runway with attitude, can you still really call your own dreams unrealistic? Didn’t think so!   Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and have a wonderful week! And remember . . . embrace wonder, indulge your curiosity … and ACT!!!   See you next Friday! Diane Diane Gottlieb   P.S. I made a promise to go public about my New Year’s Resolution solutions. Here an update: Since January 1, I can honestly say that I have not had any junk food or alcohol on a weekday—and have kept myself in bounds on the weekends! I have also either walked outdoors or on the treadmill every single day! Next accountability report in March!]]>


  1. Sarita K Sid on February 16, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Diane, for a strong antidote to my inner voice that wonders if I have enough time, if I’m too old now. While it’s true that first impressions have an impact on me, I’m a lot more interested in what people have to say; that’s what will hold my interest, or not. YOU had me at our first exchange & I’ve been a fan ever since 🙂
    I love that Iris realized early on that she had to develop her inner strengths.
    Both women are incredible, & I’d never heard of them. YES, we need older role models who challenge beauty standards that are devastating, & challenge the idea that we’re too old- whatever that number might be.
    I have a friend who is in his early seventies, with whom I deliver our local left-leaning community newspaper, & he’s as active and healthy as he has ever been. He eschews all notions of being too old.
    My fav color? Turquoise, or teal, depending on where you come from; gorgeous & vibrant, & it seems to love me back 🙂

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 17, 2019 at 3:58 am

      Sarita, I too loved that Iris realized she had to develop her inner strengths–and that she never believed that the “pretty girls” had anything over her. Both women do challenge so many notions we have in our culture about beauty and age, gender and confidence.

      On another note, do you deliver the newspapers with your friend on foot? Is it a weekly? You have me intrigued!
      And turquoise/teal–stunning! It does love you, as do I!

      • Sarita K Sid on March 17, 2019 at 5:40 pm

        Sorry for the late response, Diane.
        I started out delivering in my local area, once a month, on my own, on foot. There are close to 500 homes in my neighborhood, so this would take me 4 to 5 hours, with regular trips back home to restock.
        Now Harvey drives & I toss, & we chat about what’s going on locally & nationally.

  2. Clare Reilly on February 16, 2019 at 2:54 am

    Diane, I just had dinner with Tao. I love spending time with her! Great article. We have a lot to learn from these women.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 16, 2019 at 3:11 am

      Wow, Clare! I’d love to hear about your connection! Please share!!

      • Clare Reilly on February 16, 2019 at 1:37 pm

        I started taking yoga classes at the JCC 6-7 years ago. Of course, I fell in love with Tao instantly. After a couple of years, I started driving her to class. This was great because I had one on one time with her. We chatted a lot about her life. At the time she was writing her book Dancing Light. Within the past year, a friend and I started to have dinner with Tao at her place. I always leave there having learned something. She is remarkable.

      • Diane Gottlieb on February 16, 2019 at 1:51 pm

        Wow, Clare! What a wonderful connection! Thanks so much for sharing. What a wonderful, accessible teacher–you must feel really blessed!

        • Clare Reilly on February 16, 2019 at 3:25 pm

          I really do feel blessed!

  3. Greta Holt on February 15, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    I enjoyed seeing the dancing, and I’ve put the documentary in my ‘save’. Lately, I feel comfortable in work out clothes, but my favorites are classic jackets with a little splash of color in a scarf. Light blue and I have a great friendship. These two women followed their dreams and worked hard. They deserve their success.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2019 at 11:21 pm

      I agree. Work out clothes are the best, Greta! I’ve never been able to carry off scarfs, though–don’t know how to arrange them!
      I love that you and light blue have a “great friendship”! What a wonderful way to put it!

  4. Janet Rodriguez on February 15, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    You and I share the same passion for older women… especially happy ones! The love and joy they bring my life!! I’m a big fan of Iris… she and her hubby are affordable!! Xoxo Janet

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2019 at 8:13 pm

      Yay for happy older women, Janet! Iris is amazing! She definitely inspires joy!!

  5. Michael Frontier on February 15, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Diane, I love this!! Thank you for sharing yourself and these two remarkable icons with us. I’m inspired. And most importantly, I’m reminded we’re never to old. What a great read to jump start my day. I’m off to the gym in a tux!! Too much— NOOOOOOO… XOM

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2019 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Michael! Thanks for making me laugh! Love the visual of the gym and the tux! So happy to jump start your day with a little inspiration!

  6. Edgar Santos on February 15, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Dream big and don’t live inside your own mind. I get stuck only to realize later how much I’m preventing myself from living, succeeding and enjoying life. Dream and just do. I have many styles but the most important is being comfortable. I can still get away with the rocker look yet can feel right at home in a 2 or 3 piece. Style is attitude and mine doesn’t follow the rest of the crowd. Staying sharp following what looks and feels right on me is my style.
    Great article Diane. Looking forward to more. You are as much an inspiration as the women you right about.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks, Ed, for your kind words and for sharing your styles! I love that you feel comfortable being who you are and that who you are can take different forms reflected in what you wear–the rocker, the suit. “Staying sharp following what looks and feels right on me is my style.” The “feels right” seems to be the key–if it feels right, and is aligned with who you are, you can go get those dreams!
      Keep dreaming big! “Dream and just do.” Great advice for us all!

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