Iris Apfel (née Iris Barrel, born in August 29, 1921) is an American fashion icon and designer, as well as one of the oldest people in the world. Staying active at the fashion industry at 101 years old is not easy, it is even more difficult than elsewhere because fashion is famous for its requirements for the age of its active participants. For Iris Apfel, however, age has not become a hindrance — even now she remains a true legend in the fashion world.
Iris was born in Astoria, Queens, New York. Her mother, Sadye Asofsky, ran a fashion boutique and was originally from Russia. Iris’s father, Samuel Barrel, was an entrepreneur who specialized in the supply of mirrors and glass, and worked with the best designers in the United States. Both were Jewish. When Iris started her career, her father helped her get comfortable in the fashion industry.
Iris studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In 1948 she married Carl Apfel, and their marriage lasted 67 years. Carl Apfel died on August 1, 2015, three days before his 101st birthday.
Early in her career, Iris worked for Women’s Wear Daily, earning $15 a week, for interior designer Elinor Johnson, and as a personal assistant to illustrator Robert Goodman.
In 1950, together with her husband Carl, she opened the textile company called “Old World Weavers”, which was engaged in the restoration of antique fabrics. The main clients of the company were museums. From 1950 to 1992 Iris has been involved in a number of restoration projects, including White House commissions for nine presidents: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Iris sold the company in 1992, but continues to work there as a consultant.
On September 13, 2005, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City premiered an exhibition about Iris Apfel’s style entitled “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel”. It was the museum’s first time showcasing an exhibit about clothing and accessories focused on a living person who wasn’t a designer.
In 2011, Apfel was a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and in 2013 she was included in the list of the 50 most fashionable women in their fifties.
Now Iris is the face of the latest campaign of the cosmetic brand “MAC”, whose slogan is “Beauty beyond age limits”, and she also launched her own line of jewelry called “Iris Apfel Jewelry”.
In 2018 she published a biography with Harper Collins, entitled “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon”.
Iris Apfel pays great attention to the process of creating style and choosing her outfits. Considering these processes to be deeply creative, Iris approaches them as a kind of art, and traditionally demonstrates impressive results. A large number of people with outstanding creative abilities always liked to gather around Apfel. Among them were outstanding musicians like Duke Ellington and talented artists like the photographer Bill Cunningham from New York Times.