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In Praise of Bergdorf Goodman

Fashion doyenne Iris Apfel expresses her devotion to Bergdorf Goodman

At 91 years old, Iris Apfel calls herself “the world’s oldest living teenager.” If that’s the case, then Bergdorf Goodman, the Manhattan department store celebrating its 111th birthday this September, is her clubhouse.

“This store has so much personality; it’s not like any other I know of,” Apfel says over lunch at the store’s seventh-floor jewel box of a cafe. “If you have enough money and you can’t find it here, then it just doesn’t exist.”

Apfel knows about personality. The native New Yorker is famous for her fashion sense—in 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection, an exhibit devoted to her finery. She is currently developing a perfume as well as being filmed by Grey Gardens auteur Albert Maysles. (A short preview of the Maysles film can be viewed below.)

“Iris is unique in every sense of the word,” says Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president and fashion-forward public face, leaning across the table. “I think Bergdorf is similar. We have a lot of beautiful years under our wig, but we’re also very modern.”

Apfel isn’t Bergdorf’s only fan. In celebration of the store’s 111th anniversary, a book titled Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf Goodman that includes musings from fans like Christian Louboutin and Carol Burnett, and a documentary featuring Apfel, are both being released. Additionally, Gucci, Diptyque, Akris, Oscar de la Renta and others are creating pieces of exclusive merchandise to celebrate the anniversary.

The fuss is no surprise to Apfel, who has loved Bergdorf since she was a girl and, despite decades of shopping there, cannot pin down a favorite buy. “Everything I’ve bought has been the thing,” she says, quite seriously.

“I came with my mother,” she continues. “If there was something special, this was the place—I thought I was coming to Wonderland.”

That charm hasn’t worn off, even if New York is a different place nowadays.

“Everything has changed—I think my mother would drop dead again if she walked up Fifth Avenue and saw how people looked,” Apfel says before heading to the second floor to peruse shoes. “The world is full of bereft people dying for fantasy and glamour. That’s not available in the mainstream, it’s only here.”