Skip to main content
BoF Logo

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

Iris Apfel, New York Style Icon, Has Died at 102

The interior designer and fashion tastemaker found fame as an octogenarian.
Iris Apfel sits for a portrait during her 100th Birthday Party in New York.
Iris Apfel sits for a portrait during her 100th Birthday Party in New York. (Getty Images)

Iris Apfel, the interior designer and fashion tastemaker who found fame as an octogenarian, has died aged 102.

Stu Loeser, a spokesman for her estate, confirmed her death to multiple US outlets but did not give a cause of death. It is understood she died at her home in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday.

As an eminent authority on antique fabrics, Apfel consulted on restoration projects including work at the White House.

The subject of several museum exhibitions and a documentary, Apfel more recently starred in campaigns for H&M, eBay, Citroën and even had a Barbie doll made in her likeness.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bespectacled New Yorker had carved out a vivacious, idiosyncratic personal style with a heavy dose of wit. Describing herself as “the world’s oldest living teenager” in her Instagram bio where she amassed more than 2 million followers, she wrote “more is more and less is a bore.”

In 2005, her personal collection of vintage and designer accessories and clothes became the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird): the Irreverent Iris Apfel, it was the first time the Met had focused on a living female who wasn’t a designer. In another first, Apfel dressed the mannequins herself, styling them in her own unique and flamboyant manner.

Clashing colours, textures and prints, Apfel loved to mix designer pieces with more unique finds. Eighteenth century paste earrings and a Mexican hammered silver belt were shown with couture pieces from Dior and James Galanos.

The response, mainly through word of mouth, was unprecedented. Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld attended the opening night and Apfel was catapulted to fashion fame.

Following its success, the exhibition travelled to other museums including the Norton Museum of Art in Florida. In 2010, she bequeathed her entire Rare Bird of Fashion collection to the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.

Born Iris Barrel in 1921 in Queens, New York, she studied art history at New York University and later attended art school at the University of Wisconsin.

Her first job was a copywriter at Women’s Wear Daily. She later worked for the interior designer Elinor Johnson and also the illustrator Robert Goodman.

In 1948, she married Carl Apfel. Two years later they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they retired in 1992. Their work included restoration projects for clients including Greta Garbo and Estée Lauder alongside work at the White House for nine presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton.

ADVERTISEMENT

Specialising in fabric reproductions from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the couple travelled extensively, searching for textiles they could not source in the US.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Apfel explained it was one of the reasons they didn’t have children. “I don’t believe in a child having a nanny, so it wasn’t what we were going to do, but also having children is like protocol. You’re expected to. And I don’t like to be pigeonholed.”

Aged 91, she became Dazed Magazine oldest cover star and in 2019 following advice from the designer Tommy Hilfiger she signed with one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies, IMG. At 101 she landed her first beauty campaign when she collaborated with Ciaté London on a makeup line.

When asked about ageing in a 2018 interview, Apfel said: “I wouldn’t want to stop the clock. No, that would be so boring. It would be like being caught in a time machine, a time warp. I don’t like that. I think variety is the spice of life.”

By Chloe Mac Donnell

In This Article
Topics

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

More from Luxury
How rapid change is reshaping the tradition-soaked luxury sector in Europe and beyond.

Fashion and Design Collide at Salone Del Mobile

Fashion’s presence at Milan Design Week grew even bigger this year. Savvy activations by brands including Hermès, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Loewe and Prada showed how Salone has become a ‘critical petri dish for dalliances between design and fashion,’ Dan Thawley reports.


view more

Subscribe to the BoF Daily Digest

The essential daily round-up of fashion news, analysis, and breaking news alerts.

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
CONNECT WITH US ON
The Business of Beauty Global Awards - Deadline 30 April 2024
© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Cookie Policy and Accessibility Statement.
The Business of Beauty Global Awards - Deadline 30 April 2024