At 100, She's Still the Queen of Fashion: The Incredible Journey of Iris Apfel

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How a 100-year-old grandma became the coolest fashion icon of our time.

Iris Apfel was born on August 29, 1921 in Queens, New York City to a Jewish family. Few people know that the future designer's mother, Sadye Barrel, was born in Russia.

Iris became fascinated with fashion and design at an early age. It all began one evening when her grandmother was entertaining her with games involving scraps of fabric.

"She opened one bag, and then another, and what I saw made my eyes pop: a gigantic bunch of little fabric remnants in all sorts of colors and patterns — there were scraps of all kinds, of all shapes and sizes," Iris recalls.

Her interest in fashion also stemmed from the fact that her mother owned a boutique and her father was an interior decorator who often worked with famous designers. Apfel began collecting her extensive jewelry collection at the age of 12. She loved going to antique stores and digging through the old junk to find something precious.

The future fashion icon studied art history at New York University, but never became a professional art historian. As a young designer, Iris was an editor at Women's Wear Daily. At the same time, she worked as an assistant to illustrator Robert Goodman...

Fashion industry

In 1948, Iris married Carl Apfel, with whom she lived in harmony until his death (it happened in 2015 when the man was over 100 years old).

Two years after the wedding, she and her husband founded Old World Weavers, a textile company that dealt with restoring old fabrics and creating new ones. Their clients soon included Greta Garbo, Montgomery Clift and the Estee Lauder brand.

Apfel also began working with the White House, decorating the offices of nine U.S. presidents, from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. It was during this time that Apfel earned the nickname "First Lady of Fabric" or "Our Lady of the Cloth." The couple traveled the world in search of unique furniture and special fabrics.

Big round glasses, accent lipstick and massive jewelry became an important part of Iris's signature style. It was her extravagant outfits that made her a recognizable figure in the fashion world. She always encourages people not to be afraid to experiment with their style, adding that nothing bad is going to happen. "The fashion police are not going to come and take you away," says Apfel.

In September 2005, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented a major exhibition called Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection, dedicated to the designer's wardrobe.

Here's how the organizers explained their choice: "Iris Apfel is one of the most vivacious personalities in the worlds of fashion, textiles, and interior design, and over the past 40 years, she has cultivated a personal style that is both witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic."

The exhibition was so successful that it went on a tour around the country, and then returned to the museum where all the exhibits are kept to this day. By the way, Apfel also gained popularity through Albert Maysles' documentary called Iris, which was released in 2014. This movie tells the story of the life of the famous designer.

Fashion icon

"I'm the world's oldest living teenager," Iris laughs. She never stops breaking stereotypes and proves that age is just a number.

At 97, she became one of the oldest models in the world and signed her first modeling contract with the IMG agency. Since then, Iris has worked with many brands and appeared in their advertising campaigns. Before that, she had already graced the covers of magazines more than once.

And in 2018, Mattel released a Barbie doll in honor of the fashionista wearing a green Gucci outfit, the one that Apfel presented in her book Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon.

She loves to dress up and doesn't really care what others think of her. The designer claims that she usually has more fun preparing for a party than at the event itself. Last year, Iris Apfel turned 101! To celebrate, the famous decorator released a limited-edition makeup collection in collaboration with Ciaté London, including her favorite red lipstick.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — you do what makes you feel beautiful and how you want to express yourself that day. I love putting on makeup. It’s part of how I express myself, along with fashion," Iris said.