Iris Apfel

Maria de Juan

Iris Apfel, the rare bird of fashion

Designer and icon of American style, Iris Apfel passed away on March 1, 2024 at her home in Palm Beach, Florida. The oldest influencer was 102 years young.

iris apfel

She was an iconoclastic vitalist who broke all the rules with incredibly eclectic taste. Her clothes are not simple outfits but living paintings. Every day she left the house dressed as the living image of joy.

Her hypnotic appeal was discovered thanks to an exhibition of her fashion collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (2005) organised by the Costume Institute: Iris Apfel: Rara Avis. In 2007 she had another show at the Norton Museum in Palm Beach.

Since then, fashion brands and magazines have not taken their eyes off her.

iris apfel

She is a pioneer in the art of combining flea market pieces with signature garments. In her wardrobe, treasures from Dior, Lanvin and Versace coexist with ethnic African necklaces.

She gave us lessons on how to dress and how to live. Her 102 years are a masterclass in fashion and positive psychology.

Her great optimism is impossible to ignore when looking at her wardrobe: gold-tipped duck feather coat topped with a turquoise stone necklace, embroidered Indian silk tunic and fringed suede pants, fuchsia satin boots and a banana yellow cape. Ethnic bangles stacked up to the elbow, lipstick bright as apricot jam and those delicate bird-shaped knuckles covered with striking rings.

iris apfel

Iris Apfel was the living image of joy:

Life is gray and boring. You could also have some fun dressing up.

There was purity in her despite the rainbow chaos of her wardrobe and the cacophony of egg-sized gems clinking as she walked. She had incredibly unique taste, but not a hint of snobbery.

Iris wore Dior haute couture with flea market jewelry, she put on a vintage Balenciaga coat over a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, and mixed 19th-century ecclesiastical vestments with Topshop.

iris apfel Harpers Bazaar cover

You have to know well the rules of style to be able to break them with grace and she did it.

With outlandish outfits bought in the souk, ice blue eye shadow and ruby red lips, the familiar face of Iris Apfel appeared in the front lines of the shows and shone on newsstand covers with her pepper green suits, raspberry coats, feather boas turquoise and his trusty cane.

I stay young by thinking young. I am the oldest teenager in the world.

Iris was born in Queens (New York) in 1921, with Russian Jewish grandparents. She was the only child of a mother with a fashion boutique and a father with an import business.

I’m a child of the Great Depression, we didn’t have much money. Nobody had it. When you got a little, you learned to spend it wisely.

Iris married Carl Apfel who guided her professional steps towards the world of interior design. The two created the hand-woven fabric company Old World Weavers, traveled the world and became successful decorators.

iris apfel and models

Apfel earned nicknames such as “Busy Bee” and “First Lady of Fabric.” She decorated for Greta Garbo, Estée Lauder, Faye Dunaway, Tommy Hilfiger and nine presidents in the White House: Truman, Nixon, Bill Clinton

She was a true aesthete, a deeply respected textile expert. Iris left the firm to retire at the age of 72. She then began the most fascinating time of her life.

She designed fashion, accessories, cosmetics and jewelry. Her success was reflected in several campaigns. At 91 years old, she became the image of MAC cosmetics. She also posed for the label Other Stories and the Rara Avis jewelry line.

iris apfel 07

A woman can be beautiful at any age. Today’s woman does not want to look younger, she wants to look like what she is.

She modelled for Vogue Magazine at the age of 96 and landed a modelling contract with IMG. Mattel made a silver-haired Barbie named after her.

In 2014, NETFLIX released a documentary about her, Iris, a work by Albert Maysles, the legendary director of Gray Gardens.

iris apfel

I am very excited and delighted. They talk about me as if I had invented penicillin.

I’m a total workaholic, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be a cover girl in my nineties.

In 2018 she published her book “Accidental Icon, Reflections of a Geriatric Star”.

Iris, jovial like few others, enjoyed an unexpected effervescence of publicity:

Suddenly I have become a star. My husband and I laugh a lot. I’ve done this my whole life and now I find myself with tons of magazines writing about me. But I haven’t done anything different for the last 70 years!

There was deep wisdom behind her round owl glasses.

iris apfel

What you have to do is live in the present, which is what I have always done.

I don’t like what is modern. Trends come and go. I like timeless clothes, simple things, things that you can wear for a long time, although now everything is used and thrown away.

In 2023 she designed her first rug collection.

Tireless collector, in love with hunting and preserving, she confessed to being allergic to new technologies:

Anyone who wants me can find me by phone. The Internet and mobile phones make young people clumsy and boring. They don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.

Since the Metropolitan Museum in New York discovered her, this “Rara Avis” became a media star and emblem of the world of fashion worldwide.

The essence of Iris‘s genius, like the great filmmakers, is the art of staging. Her quirky style, unique to her, expresses curiosity and a sense of humor. The important thing is not the party, but the fun of dressing to attend it.

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Her motto:

More is more and less is boring.

Her life celebrates individualism and personal expression. She is a symbol of knowing how to age with style and confidence. Her 102 years are a testament of the fascinating energising power of fashion.

You only have one trip. You better enjoy it to the fullest.

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