Iris Apfel has lived a life that some of us could only dream about. Charmingly rude, brilliantly abrupt, wearing gigantic owlish glasses and necklaces that look like pythons sliding around her chest, Iris is the type of person that everyone wants to keep hold of and talk too for hours on end. Now starring in her own documentary – Iris – at the age of 93 (available now on Netflix ladies!), she is the sort of icon that the world adores and admires; she is a law unto herself, and she defines the fashion world. But who is she? She calls herself a ‘geriatric starlet’, but she is fashions latest muse; inspiring everyone from designers to glossy magazine editors.
Born Iris Barrrel in Astoria Queens, New York, Iris was the only child of Samuel Barrel whose family owned a glass and mirror business in the heart of New York. As a young girl, she studied art history at NY University and attended art and fashion classes in her own spare time. It was clear from a young age that Iris’s passion was fashion and everything creativity entailed. Apfel also worked as an assistant illustrator to Robert Goodman, and for Women’s Wear Daily. WWD are world renown for delivering information and intelligence on changing trends and breaking news in the fashion, beauty and retail industries. Little did she know that some years later, she would be the one influencing these huge sectors all over the globe.
In 1948 Iris married Carl Apfel (who was just as trendy!). The pair launched the textile form Old World Weavers, and through their business, the couple travelled all over the world collecting and purchasing Non-Western, artisanal clothes. Basically, anything that no one else would ever wear – “when you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else”.
If you’re think you’re a wanderlust, wait till you see some of their adventures!
Later on in life, Iris took part in several design restoration projects including work at the White House for a whole nine presidents. With such high publicity for creating such beautiful interior looks, it was here at the age of 90 that Iris’s style was finally well and truly appreciated. In September 2005, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, premiered an exhibition about her style, titled ‘Rare Bird: The Irreverent Iris Apfel’. The exhibitions upbeat success, prompted an initial traveling version of the exhibit throughout America. Her looks are now so legendary, so otherworldly, that many who first saw the exhibition assumed she was dead. Her nephew made a habit of taking friends to see it, and she gave him strict instructions: “If you hear anyone say I’m dead, tell them: ‘No, she’s very much alive and just walking around to save funeral expenses.’
So all you fashion bunnies, although Iris may not be your initial point of inspiration for your Saturday night look, it’s always important to remember the roots of your outfit. Be fun, expressive, and daring with your style; as Iris says – “if you make a mistake in what you put together, the fashion police are not going to haul you into jail”.