Iris Apfel: A Living Fashion Icon

Iris Apfel is a name that resonates with style, individuality, and an unparalleled sense of fashion. Born in Astoria, Queens, New York, in 1921, this vivacious nonagenarian has transcended age and convention to become a global style icon. With her distinctive oversized glasses, layers of bold accessories, and an unparalleled knack for mixing high and low fashion, Iris Apfel is more than just a fashion maven; she’s a cultural phenomenon. In this detailed essay, we will explore the life, career, and influence of Iris Apfel, delving into her unique style, her impact on the fashion industry, and her indomitable spirit.

Early Life and Career

Iris Apfel’s journey into the world of fashion began at a young age. Her mother, Sadye, owned a boutique, where Iris was introduced to the colorful world of fabrics and textiles. This early exposure ignited her passion for fashion and laid the foundation for her future endeavors.

After studying art history at New York University and attending the University of Wisconsin, Apfel embarked on a career in interior design. In 1948, she married Carl Apfel, and together they founded Old World Weavers, a textile firm known for its exquisite reproductions of historical fabrics. The company’s success allowed Iris to travel the world, collecting rare and unique textiles, a hobby that would greatly influence her personal style.

The Iris Apfel Aesthetic

Iris Apfel’s personal style is a captivating blend of vintage, ethnic, and avant-garde pieces. Her signature accessory, oversized round glasses, instantly sets her apart in any crowd. These iconic glasses, which she refers to as her “eyebrows,” have become synonymous with her image.

Another distinctive feature of Apfel’s style is her penchant for layering. She boldly mixes textures, colors, and patterns in a way that only she can pull off. Whether it’s a cacophony of bangles on her wrists, layers of necklaces adorning her neck, or a boldly patterned coat over a vibrant floral dress, Iris Apfel’s outfits are a masterclass in fearless fashion.

Fashion Icon and Muse

In the early 2000s, Iris Apfel’s unique style began to gain widespread recognition. She became a muse for numerous fashion designers and was featured in a groundbreaking exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in 2005. Titled “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel,” the exhibit celebrated her distinctive style and showcased her extensive wardrobe, which includes over 7,000 pieces of clothing and accessories.

Designers like Dries Van Noten, Giorgio Armani, and Ralph Lauren have cited Apfel as a source of inspiration. She has also collaborated with brands like MAC Cosmetics and Swarovski, further cementing her status as a fashion icon.

Ageless Influence

What sets Iris Apfel apart is not just her bold sense of style but also her unwavering confidence and joie de vivre. At an age when many people have retired, she continues to break down barriers and redefine the norms of beauty and fashion. Iris Apfel serves as a powerful reminder that style knows no age, and true beauty comes from being unapologetically oneself.


In the world of fashion, where conformity often reigns supreme, Iris Apfel stands as a beacon of individuality and self-expression. Her life and career have been a testament to the power of embracing one’s uniqueness and celebrating the art of dressing up. Iris Apfel’s influence transcends fashion; it’s a celebration of life, style, and the audacity to be different. As she once said, “If you’re not interested, you’re not interesting.” Iris Apfel is undoubtedly both.

In her ninth decade, Iris Apfel continues to captivate the fashion world, proving that age is no barrier to being a trendsetter. Her legacy will inspire generations to come, reminding us all to embrace our inner eccentricities and wear them with pride. Iris Apfel isn’t just a fashion icon; she’s a living legend.

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