Iris Apfel, the fun and fearless fashion icon

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On March 1st, we bid farewell to Iris Apfel, a true designer and style legend. 

Apfel’s legacy extends far beyond her remarkable career achievements. She was a trailblazer who fearlessly embraced her unique style, inspiring countless individuals to do the same. Iris exuded confidence and creativity in every outfit. She was the queen of mixing high and low fashion, and what was her mantra? Originality and courage over trends any day! 

Her bold choices and unapologetic self-expression left an indelible mark on the global fashion industry, challenging “Quiet Luxury” and celebrating boldness.

Photo by RF Studio from Pexel

White Hair

Iris was pivotal in redefining beauty standards, making white hair acceptable and undeniably chic. While Barbara Bush may have been among the country’s first famous women to embrace her white hair, Apfel infused it with unparalleled elegance and flair.


Iris Apfel has been connected with the fashion world since her early days. As a young soul, she scoured antique shops and markets, snagging unique jewelry finds that sparked her passion for style. Her journey led her to diverse roles – from a savvy copywriter at Women’s Wear Daily to collaborating with an interior designer, decorators, and designers, where she honed her distinctive style.

Iris Apfel in her closet selecting clothes
Photo from Youtube

Stylish Roots

In her fabulous book Accidental Icon, Iris spills the beans about her stylish roots. It turns out her mom ran a fashion boutique back in the Depression era! Iris’s parents adored her gift for shopping and her genius for piecing together killer outfits. Who knew that her passion for fashion started way back then? It’s no accident that Iris became the icon she is today.

From Fashion Designer to Icon

Apfel began her career working for interior decorator Elinor Johnson, who had a unique business model of purchasing apartments in New York, decorating them, and then selling or leasing them “as is.” Later, Apfel transitioned into reporting for Grossinger’s Borscht Belt resort. There, her distinct fashion style caught the eye of guests, leading to conversations about her passion for interior design. Eventually, many guests hired her as an interior designer based on her impressive fashion sense and design expertise.

Iris and Carl Apfel

Iris and Carl were the ultimate creative and power couple! They founded the textile company Old World Weavers.  They were partners in life for nearly seven decades and rocked the White House as restoration consultants from the beginning of the Truman era to Clinton’s time in office (nine presidents!).

Their partnership wasn’t just about work; it was a love story that stood the test of time, making waves in the world of restoration and beyond.

Iris and Carl sold their business but remained consultants while Iris’ life took an interesting turn.

The Met Calls

In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume curator, Harold Koda, had a stroke of genius. He contacted the fabulous Iris to showcase her jaw-dropping clothes and jewelry collection and curate the exhibit Rara Avis (Rare Bird), an exhibit all about Iris’s clothes.

Her closet wasn’t just a closet; it was a treasure trove, an extraordinary collection of bold prints, statement jewelry, and show-stopping pieces that screamed personality. Harold Koda knew he had struck gold with Iris; the rest is history.

Iris Apfel fashion icon
Photo from Youtube

The Making of a Fashion Icon

Iris’s iconic exhibition was a magnet for art and fashion students, drawing them in like bees to honey. In her mid-eighties, she was propelling herself into the spotlight as a future major player in the fashion world. Universities eagerly invited her to share her insights with students, while her Instagram account skyrocketed in popularity, leaving people hungry for more of her unique perspective and style.

So, if you ever doubted the power of personal style, remember Iris and her legendary closet exhibition at the Met.

Iris post 80

She created, designed, and sold her jewelry brand and collaborated with other fashion designers, such as Kate Spade.

Apfel became a successful fashion model at age 97! (Can you imagine signing a modelling contract at 90?) Now, that is inspiring. Iris became an icon! What a woman.

Iris’s famous one-liners:

Go wild and get comfortable outside of your comfort zone

Being stylish and being fashionable are two different things; you can buy your way into being fashionable, but style is in your DNA

Get old, but don’t get boring

A sense of humor is necessary

Be an individual and don’t follow the crowd

If you are not interested, you are not interesting

She called herself a geriatric starlet

(Resource: Youtube’s documentary about Iris by Albert Maysles)

Iris Apfel at the Miami Film Festival
Photo by Miami Film Festival

Iris, my muse

Following Iris Apfel for a few years has been an enlightening journey. She’s shown me that age only adds to our allure and that reinventing ourselves is a timeless pursuit.

She’s taught me the importance of having fun rather than succumbing to societal pressures. Thanks to Iris, I’ve learned the importance of creativity and authenticity.

The irreverent Iris Apfel

As we bid farewell to this icon, let us carry forward her legacy of self-expression, confidence, and unapologetic vivacity, celebrating our unique journeys with the same spirit of grace and style that Iris Apfel embodied throughout her remarkable life.

Main Illustration by Maria Herreros

Read about another fabulous woman who did not let her bad luck in life and age stop her from reinventing herself. Mary Delany

Marguerite Beaty, Blogger, Photographer & Artist

Welcome to the sunny side of life for women over 50! We aim to create a space where women feel empowered, supported, and inspired to lead their best lives after 50. Join our Instagram!

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