Who Is Iris Apfel? The Story Behind The Maximalist Fashion Star - The Gloss Magazine

Who Is Iris Apfel? The Story Behind The Maximalist Fashion Star

Her collaboration with H&M sold out in a matter of minutes this morning but who was Iris Apfel before she was the darling of maximalist fashion? …

“More is more and less is a bore.” If a mantra is meant to neatly personify one’s personal style in a nutshell, then Iris Apfel has nailed it. A self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet”, 100-year-old Apfel is known and best-loved for the maximalist approach she sprinkles on everything in her life, from her Park Avenue apartment lined with dog portraits and tomes on decorative arts and Chinese textiles, to her outré approach to getting dressed that includes clashing prints, reams of jewellery and her signature oversized black-rimmed spectacles.

Apfel has become a byword for a no-holds-barred approach to fashion that first and foremost, is centred around fun. As the centenarian has quipped, “You have to have fun. If you can’t have fun you might as well be dead.” Here are five things you may not know about the fashion extrovert.

Main image: Instagram @iris.apfel.

Apfel was born in Queens

In 1921, Apfel was born Iris Barrel in Astoria, a largely immigrant neighbourhood in Queens; the only daughter of Samuel Barrel whose family owned a glass and mirror business. Iris’ Russian-born mother Sadye Barrel owned a fashion boutique. Apfel studied art history at NYU and also was an art student at the University of Wisconsin.

She credits her passion for antiquities and quirky accessories to childhood visits to Manhattan, where she would lose herself in the stores of Greenwich Village. “At that time you could ride the whole subway system for a nickel, so each week I would take a different section of New York — Chinatown, Yorkville, Harlem, Greenwich Village. And I really fell in love with the Village,” she told The Guardian.

She started in interiors … at the White House

After a stint working at Women’s Wear Daily, Iris married Carl Apfel in 1948. They went into business two years later, launching the textile firm Old World Weavers – the company formed the couple’s livelihood until they both retired in 1992. The duo’s most prolific client was the White House – a contract they held over nine presidencies, from Truman to Clinton.

Speaking about Jackie Kennedy, Apfel recalled: “She employed a very famous Parisian designer to gussy up the house and make it a real Frenchie, and the design community went bananas. After that we had to throw it all out and start again. But I did like Mrs Nixon. She was lovely.”

She was happily married for 67 years …

Carl and Iris met while staying at a Lake George resort in upstate New York. They married a year later and remained so for 67 years, until Carl passed away in 2015 at 100 years of age. Their happy marriage was one of the focal points of the 2014 documentary Iris. When looking back on her wedding dress, Apfel said: “The dress was pink lace, and I’m really very practical, so I wanted a dress that I could wear after the wedding and not just put in a box. I still have these shoes 66 and a half years later. They were pale pink satin. They’re back in style. If you hang around long enough, everything comes back.” The couple shared a favourite fragrance, Yatagan by the heritage French perfumer Caron.

There’s been three books, a documentary and a Barbie …

While the 2018 release Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon is what the 100-year-old is best known for, there was another book in 2007, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel co-written with Eric Boman. In 2016, Apfel released Pocket Iris Wisdom: Witty Quotes and Wise Words from Iris Apfel. The 2014 documentary Iris shone a light on Apfel’s impact on the fashion industry. It was directed by Albert Maysles, known for his work on Grey Gardens (1975) – another beacon on the advanced style circuit. In 2018, Apfel became the latest (and oldest) fashion figure to have her likeness recreated in a Barbie doll when she collaborated with Mattel.

She doesn’t believe in anti-ageing rituals …

When asked how she manages to maintain her youthful exuberance Apfel shared this nugget of wisdom. “I always eat well; I never eat junk food. I don’t drink soda. I used to smoke four packs a day! But I gave it up; I just quit one day. I don’t do any exercises regularly. I don’t drink heavily, but I do have a drink now and then.”


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