Iris Apfel: The Centenarian Fashion Icon

Iris Apfel (1921 – 2024)

Welcome to the colorful and wonderful world of Centenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel. Her eclectic sensibilities and boundless spirit serve as an endless wellspring of inspiration. From Iris’s iconic oversized spectacles to her fearless embrace of diverse patterns and textures, one can perceive each ensemble as a powerful testament to independence and authenticity. Iris’s defiance of conventional norms resonates with me, and I applaud her for empowering individuals to celebrate their uniqueness without hesitation. Beyond Iris’s outward appearance, I am captivated by her unwavering confidence and zest for life. Iris’s infectious enthusiasm and razor-sharp wit remind us that fashion transcends mere garments, it reflects one’s innermost attitude and character.

Born on August 29, 1921, in the bustling streets of Queens, New York, Iris (Barrel) Apfel entered the world destined to leave an indelible mark on fashion and style. Raised by prosperous business owners, her early years were steeped in creativity and enterprise, laying the foundation for her extraordinary journey. From a young age, Iris had an innate fascination with fashion, igniting her soul as she scoured discount stores to craft unique ensembles. This passion for style was more than a hobby; it shaped her destiny. After studying art history and honing her craft in college, Iris began her professional journey as a copywriter for the esteemed Women’s Wear Daily. Amid the whirlwind of words and trends, her love affair with fashion blossomed, setting the stage for her remarkable career.

Love and Marriage

In 1947, fate intervened when Iris met her kindred spirit, Carl Apfel, at a resort on Lake George in upstate New York. They were immediately attracted to each other, with Carl remarking, “There was something about her that just got into me.” Engaged on Thanksgiving of that year, they married on February 22, 1948. While Iris was renowned for her bold and unique fashion sense, Carl also had impeccable style, often accompanying her to events in colorful outfits. Their genuine affection was captured in the documentary film “Iris.” Together, they founded the interior design firm and textile company Old World Weavers, which decorated the White House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their union, characterized by love and creative synergy, breathed life into their shared vision, weaving innovation and tradition into every fabric they touched. Their marriage lasted an incredible 67 years until Carl died in 2015 at the age of 100. Despite the loss of her husband, Iris’s love for fashion remained undiminished.

Old World Weavers

Over the ensuing decades, Iris and Carl Apfel forged an unparalleled path in interior design and textile restoration, with their talents sought after by luminaries such as Greta Garbo and prestigious clients like the White House decorating for nine U.S. presidents, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Estée Lauder. Their company, Old World Weavers, became synonymous with excellence, specializing in the restoration of antique treasures and the creation of timeless masterpieces. The couple traveled extensively, sourcing rare and historic fabrics from flea markets and bazaars around the world. As demand for these fabrics grew, they began replicating them using specialized looms and weavers. Iris brought her global design inspirations to life through the company’s work, including the iconic “Tigre” cut velvet design, originally hand-woven in silk in Venice and later adapted for commercial production.

The Golden Years

In her golden years, Iris Apfel emerged as a global phenomenon and beacon of inspiration. In 2005, at the age of 83, her collection of vintage and designer garments was showcased in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection,” propelling her into fashion stardom. Her audacious style, marked by oversized tortoiseshell glasses, colorful jewelry, and a mix of whimsical patterns, captivated all who beheld her. Curated by Harold Koda, the exhibition highlighted her eclectic fashion amassed over decades of global travel with her husband Carl. The success of “Rara Avis” drew large crowds and critical acclaim, showcasing her passion for fashion and design. Embracing her newfound celebrity, Iris collaborated with esteemed brands and graced prestigious magazine covers, all while remaining grounded and authentically herself. Even in her 80s and 90s, she continued to defy expectations, teaching at the University of Texas at 90 and penning her magnum opus, “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon,” at 96, a testament to her indomitable spirit and lifelong love for fashion.

Iris - Official TrailerThe Documentary Iris

The documentary “Iris,” directed by the legendary Albert Maysles, offers an intimate and captivating look into the life of Iris Apfel, the fashion maven whose bold and eclectic style has captivated audiences worldwide. Released in 2014, the film explores Iris’s extraordinary journey, from her early days as a businesswoman and interior designer to her rise as a fashion icon in her later years. Through candid interviews, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and vivid portrayals of her day-to-day activities, the documentary showcases Iris’s vibrant personality, unyielding creativity, and indomitable spirit. It also highlights the profound partnership she shared with her husband Carl, emphasizing their passion for design and their enduring love. “Iris” not only celebrates her unique sartorial flair but also delves into her philosophy on aging, individuality, and the joy of living life to its fullest, solidifying her status as a true trailblazer and an inspiration to generations of fashion enthusiasts.


Iris Apfel has authored several books capturing her distinctive style and life experiences. Her forthcoming book, set for posthumous release in August 2024, provides an in-depth look into her vibrant life and unique style. Titled “Iris Apfel: Colorful,” the book includes over 300 never-before-seen photographs and explores the inspirations, influences, and ideas that shaped her iconic aesthetic and approach to fashion. It weaves together personal stories from her early life as the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants to her love of jazz music alongside her theories on color and style.

As a follow-up to her 2018 bestseller “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon,” this new release promises to be an essential addition to her growing literary legacy. “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon” is her most well-known book, a lavishly illustrated collection of musings, anecdotes, and observations on life and style. It features Apfel’s singular candor, wit, and exuberance, offering a glimpse into the mind of a true fashion trailblazer. The book includes her astute maxims, witty anecdotes, and essays on various topics, along with never-before-published personal photographs, mementos, and images from top fashion photographers.

Magazine Covers

Iris Apfel has been widely featured in numerous fashion magazines over the years, including an interview and photoshoot with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, a feature article on about her style and advice on defining one’s fashion, a video segment for W Magazine showcasing her prized possessions, a feature article in Spanish fashion magazine NEOMANÍA, and an in-depth profile in Tribute Magazine covering her life, style, and career. Additionally, in 2022, she was featured in a video segment for W Magazine highlighting her prized possessions. The most recent confirmed cover appearance was in the UK Style magazine issue of March 2022, celebrating her milestone 100th birthday.

Brand Deals

In 2022, at the age of 100, Iris Apfel launched a highly successful 38-piece fashion collection with H&M to celebrate her milestone birthday. The Iris Apfel x H&M collection embodied her bold, maximalist style, featuring vibrant colors, clashing patterns, oversized silhouettes, and whimsical accessories such as statement jackets, floral print dresses, fringe-detailed loungewear, and a swimsuit inspired by her iconic oversized glasses. The eye-catching accessories included chunky jewelry, embellished shoes, and playful brooches, with many items made from sustainable materials. The collection sold out quickly both overseas and in the U.S. after its launch. Iris was deeply involved in the design process, praising H&M for translating her vision splendidly. This collaboration allowed her to share her unique fashion vision and inspire people to embrace their style at an affordable price point, which she felt was a perfect fit for bringing her eclectic aesthetic to a wider audience.

IMG Models

Apfel made headlines in 2019 when, at the remarkable age of 97, she signed a modeling contract with IMG Models, joining the likes of Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss. Encouraged by designer Tommy Hilfiger, Apfel’s decision to formalize her representation challenged ageist perceptions in the fashion industry. Praised for her unique personal style and extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit, Apfel’s partnership with IMG symbolized a celebration of diversity and individuality in fashion. Since then, the collaboration has resulted in numerous high-profile campaigns, solidifying Apfel’s status as a trailblazer. Before her death at 102, she continued to inspire women worldwide to embrace their personal style, proving that age is no barrier to creativity and self-expression.

MAC Cosmetics

In 2011, Apfel partnered with MAC Cosmetics to introduce a vibrant makeup line that encapsulated her iconic and daring style. Dubbed “Iris Apfel for MAC,” the collection comprised over 20 products, from lipsticks to nail polish, all echoing Apfel’s penchant for bold and lively colors. Collaborating closely with the MAC team, Apfel ensured each item resonated with her distinctive aesthetic. This collaboration not only celebrated Apfel’s unparalleled fashion sense but also allowed her fans to embrace her fearless attitude toward self-expression. With prices ranging from $14 to $23, the collection made Apfel’s haute couture tastes accessible to a broader

audience. This venture was part of MAC’s trend of teaming up with fashion luminaries.

Barbie and More

Iris Apfel’s unparalleled status paved the way for diverse brand collaborations, notably in her later years. At the remarkable age of 97, she became the oldest woman ever to have a Barbie doll fashioned in her likeness, a testament to her enduring influence. Her distinct personal style has sparked partnerships with numerous brands, from Barbie to various clothing lines, glasses, artworks, and dolls all emulating her iconic aesthetic. In essence, Apfel’s ability to translate her fashion prowess into brand partnerships underscores her timeless appeal and lasting impact on the fashion industry


As the sands of time slipped away, Iris remained a force of nature, her spirit undimmed by the passage of years. At the venerable age of 102, Iris bid farewell to the mortal world, leaving behind a legacy that would endure for generations to come. Her pioneering spirit, her fearless pursuit of individuality, and her unwavering commitment to authenticity will continue to inspire all who dare to dream, create, and embrace the kaleidoscope of life’s possibilities. In Iris Apfel, the world has lost a fashion icon, but her legacy will forever shine brightly, a beacon of light in a world hungry for beauty, creativity, and above all, the unbridled expression of self.

“You only have one trip. You might as well enjoy it.” – Iris Apfel

Work Cited:

Andrea Houle
Andrea Houle
Andrea Houle is an accomplished Cultural Arts Consultant from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with a passion for fine and performance arts. Andrea has devoted her career to showcasing the allure and urban sophistication of her beloved Detroit. Her enthusiasm for the city's rich heritage and resurgence serves as a beacon, guiding her work in celebrating its cultural renaissance. Her dedication has earned admiration from artists, enthusiasts, and leaders alike.

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