Creativity, a Great Dinner Party, and the Coloring Book you Need in your Life with Iris Apfel

It was a short conversation, but in the spring of 2004 as I was chatting with an upperclassmen, I decided to transfer to the Fashion Merchandising program. I was ending my sophomore year at the University of Texas at Austin. While a degree in fashion didn’t fit what I had thought I might do professionally up until this point, the idea of personal style, aesthetics and creative projects were becoming more and more all-consuming and as time went on I could think of less and less reason why I shouldn’t make them the focus of my studies. After spending the last 14 years doing everything from buying to styling to creating and publishing digital content to now creating a children’s line,  I can say with certainty that it turned out to be an unbelievably good decision.

Fast forward 16 years to this past spring when I became aware of a new creative partnership between my Alma Mater and one of the ultimate style icons, Iris Apfel. The duo has been collaborating on a one-week fashion experience in NYC that UT fashion students can apply for since 2010. This spring, Professor Apfel (as she has become known to the group) and the University collaborated on a new project, a coloring book. I was intrigued by the project and fortunate enough to get to chat with her on the phone last week to discuss the project, creativity and the key to a great dinner party. Here’s our conversation…

Above image via Adweek

(PS. To purchase the book, visit The books are $45 + tax and 100% of the proceeds benefit future student travel to NYC to meet Iris Apfel and her fashion industry connections. You can follow @Iristhecoloringbook  on Instagram and share your own artistry by tagging #IrisInColor.)

Jen: I would love to hear more about how the “UT in NYC” program came to be…

Iris: UT fashion students can apply for the program. They visit New York City and spend a week with me. I introduce them to the “who’s who” of the fashion world. A good friend introduced me to the program in 2010 and I was surprised that the students only saw themselves entering one or two segments of the fashion industry. The industry is enormous with so many opportunities. So, I decided to help create a program that exposes the students to all the facets. Now I’m a Visiting Professor. I love being called Professor Apfel.

Jen: How does it feel to now have your life turned into a coloring book?    

Iris: I’m flattered. What’s also exciting is how the book came to be: that the production of the book was conceived, crowdfunded, created and marketed by UT professors, students and alumni. The illustrations, art direction, eCommerce and social media are all connected with UT. It’s a family affair!

Jen: What do you think is the key to finding fresh concepts and staying inspired and creative? 

Iris: I love creativity and that’s what I live by. In 98 years I have not been able to turn it off. I never rest. Ideas just come. Everything is connected, nothing just happens out of a vacuum. You start doing one thing and it leads to the next. Everyone wants a formula or a road map but there isn’t one. You just have to let go and go with the flow. I can’t make plans. I don’t work that way. I try to very much live in the now. First person singular present tense. You’ve got to live in the now.

Jen: You’ve lived a fascinating life. In these times especially I have found myself really missing the fun and spontaneity of life. I’m counting down to my next dinner party. You’re a legendary hostess. What do you think makes for a great dinner party?

Iris: Guests who are not dead from the neck up. People who have various interests and don’t just sit and agree with each other. Not people that are so combative and excited about their beliefs that they might smash a dinner plate on a person’s head, but everyone can’t be the same. Younger people and older people.

Jen: What’s something simple that has brought you joy today?

Iris: It’s a great blessing that I wake up. I’m just happy to be up and around. I’m not a planner. I’m putting the finishing touches to a very long parody of You’re the Top for a friend’s birthday. The birthday was last week, but the juices are on and I can’t stop. It’s so many pages I’m going to need to edit. I like rhyming, rhyming is fun. I should buy myself a rhyming dictionary. My mother was very clever and she was a little over 100 when she passed on and every year my husband would try to buy her a new adding machine and every year she would send it back. “If I stop now I won’t be able to continue.” she would say. Curiosity and imagination… they’re the two things I live by.

Jen: What do you hope people do with the Coloring Book?

Iris: I’ve had people calling me from Santa Fe and California about the book and telling me how much they love it. I think it’s very relaxing. I’m hoping people get into it and love it and then start some other project and do something more creative. People need that. Fashion is fun! And playing with color is fun! I hope it inspires people of all ages to create their own art — whether that’s on paper, with fabrics or with accessories.  If you’re creative you live better.

To purchase the book, visit The books are $45 + tax and 100% of the proceeds benefit future student travel to NYC to meet Iris Apfel and her fashion industry connections. You can follow @Iristhecoloringbook  on Instagram and share your own artistry by tagging #IrisInColor.

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  1. I need to get that colouring book!!

    Curated by Jennifer

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