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Remembering Iris Apfel: An Icon of Style and Individuality

American fashion icon Iris Apfel, known for her bold style and larger-than-life personality, passed away on March 1st, 2024, at the age of 102. Throughout her remarkable life, Apfel left an indelible mark on the worlds of fashion, design, and culture, earning her a revered place in history.

Born Iris Barrel on August 29, 1921, in Queens, New York City, Apfel developed a love for fashion and design at a young age. She studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin, honing her keen eye for aesthetics and craftsmanship.

In her early career, Apfel worked as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily and gained valuable experience as an assistant to renowned interior designer Elinor Johnson. In 1948, she married Carl Apfel, and together they founded the textile firm Old World Weavers in 1950. Over the next four decades, the Apfels became industry leaders in textile reproduction, working on prestigious projects including restoration work at the White House for nine presidents.

Despite their busy careers, Iris and Carl Apfel shared a deep love and appreciation for each other. Married for 67 years until Carl’s passing in 2015, the couple’s partnership was a testament to their unwavering commitment and mutual respect.

Apfel’s legacy extends far beyond her professional accomplishments. She became a fashion icon in her later years, celebrated for her eclectic style and fearless approach to dressing. In 2005, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art featured an exhibition showcasing her unparalleled collection of costume jewelry and unique sense of style. The success of the exhibition solidified Apfel’s status as a cultural icon, paving the way for museum retrospectives and documentaries that celebrated her life and contributions to the world of fashion.

In 2014, Apfel was the subject of the documentary “Iris” by Albert Maysles, which premiered to critical acclaim at the New York Film Festival. The film offered a candid glimpse into Apfel’s world, capturing her wit, wisdom, and enduring passion for style.

Apfel’s influence extended beyond the fashion industry. In 2018, Mattel created a Barbie doll in her image, making her the oldest person to ever have a Barbie made in her likeness. Throughout her life, Apfel received numerous awards and honors, including being listed as one of the “Best-Dressed over 50” by The Guardian and receiving the Women Together Special Award of the Year at the 12th Annual Women Together Gala.

Iris Apfel’s legacy is multifaceted, encompassing her work as a designer, businesswoman, and style icon. With her distinctive oversized glasses, layers of colorful accessories, and penchant for mixing high and low fashion, she became a symbol of creativity and authenticity in an industry often characterized by conformity.

Over the course of her illustrious career, Iris Apfel forged connections with some of the most influential figures in fashion, both in America and abroad. With over fifty years of attending Paris Fashion shows, she remained a familiar and admired presence, revered for her keen eye and unparalleled sense of style. Among the French fashion designers she met and admired were Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Lacroix, who were drawn to her unique perspective and unapologetic approach to fashion.

Beyond her contributions to the world of fashion, Iris Apfel was celebrated for her wit, wisdom, and infectious joie de vivre. Her famous quotes continue to resonate with audiences around the world, offering insights into her philosophy on life and style. From her belief that “more is more and less is a bore” to her mantra that “life is gray and dull; you might as well have a little fun when you dress,” Iris Apfel’s words serve as a reminder to embrace individuality and find joy in the everyday.

In the words of Iris Apfel herself, “I think you’re born with style, but you have to develop it.” May we all strive to cultivate our own unique sense of style and carry on her legacy with grace and gusto.

Iris Apfel’s book “Accidental Icon” on Amazon

As we bid farewell to Iris Apfel, we celebrate her legacy as a trailblazer, innovator, and true original. Her fearless spirit and unwavering commitment to individuality will continue to inspire generations to come. Rest in peace, beautiful Iris Apfel.


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