Fashion Flashback: Iris Apfel

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What makes a fashion legend? Is it a distinguished career, commercial success, extraordinary collections that stand the test of time? Or is it a combination of those things or the sum of all parts?

Iris Apfel was none of those things. Yet, she achieved legendary status, a status she acquired in her 80s and 90s. In fact, Apfel was the original fashion influencer.

Iris Apfel passed away recently at the age of 102. And lived a very full life that became the subject of a documentary and an art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fashion Reverie looks back at the incredible life If Iris Apfel. There will never be another like her!!

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Iris Apfel spent the first 80 years of her long life as a private citizen. Iris always called herself, “just a girl from Astoria, Queens who loved a good bargain.” And loving a good bargain was a way of life for Iris Apfel, which applies to her rather whimsical random shopping for clothing, accessories, and home goods. “In a former life, I must have been a hunter-gatherer,” Apfel wrote in her authorial début, Iris Apfel Accidental Icon

Born in 1921, Iris (Barrel) Apfel’s parents wear both retailers. Her mother ran a small clothing boutique, while her father owned a glass and mirror business. Iris’ love of shopping started very early with her strategically negotiating the price of a brooch at a West Village jewelry store during the Depression.

Iris married her husband Carl Apfel, her husband of nearly years, in 1948. Before marrying Carl Apfel, Iris worked at Women’s Wear Daily, as a copywriter, and for interior designer Elinor Johnson.

Iris In Paris: Exhibition, Paris, March 2, 2016.

In 1950, Carl and Iris created the textile company Old World Weavers which they ran until 1992, selling to Stark, a large fabric firm. Old World Weavers specialized in the reproduction of fabrics from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and traveled to Europe twice a year in search of textiles they could not source in the United States.

Over the years, Iris Apfel was in involved in several restoration at the White House for US presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. Through their world travels sourcing interior design items, Apfel began collecting artisanal, Non-Western clothing which she wore to dinner parties, making her a valued guest.

In her mid-80s, Iris became a fashion icon known for her eccentric but fashionable style. In retirement, she drew acclaim for a 2005 show at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring her collection of costume jewelry and styled with clothes on mannequins as she would wear them. This art exhibit established her as a fashion icon.

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In 2011, Iris Apfel became a visiting professor at the University of Texas in Austin in the university’s division of Textiles and Apparel. In 2014 the Albert Maysies’ documentary “Iris” was released.

In 2018 HarperCollins published her biography Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon in 2018.In 2019 Iris Apfel signed a contract with IMG Models at the age 97.

William S. Gooch


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