“Before multiculturism was a word, Mrs Apfel was wearing it.” – New York Times art critic Roberta Smith.
Iris Apfel’s CV reads like a woman who has lived her life to the fullest! In 1950, Iris and her husband Carl set up their own textile business that specialised in contemporary interpretations of antique fabrics called Old World Weavers. Alongside this successful venture, Iris also set up her own Interior design business. One of her most notable achievements was her part in the restoration of the fabrics at the White House. The businesses helped define her offbeat, eclectic style as the couple regularly travelled to buy fabrics for clients from exotic destinations all over the globe.
It wasn’t until 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum in New York staged an exhibition of her wardrobe that Iris become something of an ‘it’ girl in the fashion world. A typical display note from the ‘Rare Bird’ exhibition read as follows: “House of Lanvin gown, circa 1985, gold, brown and gray silk taffeta. Bhutan arm bracelet, late 19th century, silver and amber. Tibet cuff bracelet, late 19th century, silver, amber, coral and turquoise. Tibet necklaces, early 20th century, silver, amber, coral, turquoise.” Each mannequin was dripping in embellishments, interesting fabrics and of course Apfel’s signature owlish glasses.
The ninety three year old has been known to haggle in the markets of Harlem, bargain hunt in the Souks of the Middle East and buy jeans at flea markets for a measly $15. Her quirky style opened the fashion industries eyes to the possibility that getting older doesn’t mean faded and boring. In her own words she has proclaimed, “Nothing makes a woman look old as trying desperately hard to look young. I think you can be attractive at any age. I think trying to look like a spring chicken when you’re not makes you look ridiculous.” However sobering her words, her sense of fun is always apparent. She has worn necklaces that were made for elephants and horses, and in particular, a necklace made of plastic finds including a toy calculator, figurines and a chewing gum packet.
Apfel’s CV continues to impress. Her popularity in her later years has led to prestigious interviews and photo shoots in the Paper, New York Times and Vogue. The ‘geriatric starlet’ and muse now gets recognised on the streets and trailed after by admiring fashion bloggers. Over the past few years Iris has developed her own costume jewellery range for HSN and starred in a campaign for Kate Spade alongside supermodel Karlie Kloss. Mac cosmetics also launched a range of Iris Apfel colours in 2011, including Pink Pigeon and Scarlet Ibis, referencing the name of the Met show – Rare Bird – and Apfel’s penchant for bright colours.
As Apfel celebrates her 98th birthday in August we wonder what this incredible woman will do next.