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Remembering Iris Apfel: A Rare Bird in Fashion and Design

The world of fashion and design has bid farewell to one of its most flamboyant icons, Iris Apfel, who passed away peacefully at her Palm Beach home. Known for her eclectic style and oversized eyeglasses, Iris' journey from a humble copy editor earning $15-a-week at Women's Wear Daily in the 1940s to a global fashion icon is a testament to her unique vision and indomitable spirit.


In 1948, a pivotal year, Iris married Carl Apfel, and together they embarked on a remarkable 42-year journey with their furniture design business, Old World Weavers. This venture not only showcased their passion for textiles but also led Iris to the prestigious task of renovating rooms in the White House during nine presidencies—a testament to her impeccable taste and design prowess. 

Photo of Iris and her husband Carl, who passed away in 2015 aged 100. The couple married in 1949.© Provided by Daily Mail

Despite her lack of formal fashion training, Iris became an unlikely style icon when the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched an exhibition in 2005, focusing on her wardrobe. The 'Rara Avis' (Rare Bird) exhibition celebrated Iris as a vibrant personality in the worlds of fashion, textiles, and interior design, hailing her personal style as 'witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic.'


Photo shows Iris during the design process of one of her interior design projects in New York© Provided by Daily Mail

This recognition propelled her to model for Vogue Italia, Kate Spade, and M.A.C in her 90s, breaking stereotypes about age and fashion. Her legacy was further immortalized when Mattel created a Barbie doll in her image, and she was the subject of the Albert Maysles documentary 'Iris' in 2014.

Iris' journey began in Queens, where she was born to a glass and mirror business family and a fashion boutique owner mother. Her early life on a farm in Queens and weekly trips to Manhattan fueled her love for antiques and textiles. Her adventurous spirit led her to explore various New York neighborhoods, igniting a passion that would define her career.

Apfel, who was a New York style icon for years, only came to worldwide attention in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed an exhibition focusing on her fashion sense titled Rara Avis (Rare Bird); seen with Christina Hendricks in 2016


After majoring in Art History at New York University and apprenticing for an interior designer, Iris met Carl, and together they created Old World Weavers. This venture took them around the world, where they collected and reproduced exquisite fabrics, cementing their reputation in design. Their dedication to their craft was so profound that they chose not to have children, a decision Iris spoke about candidly, expressing her desire not to conform to societal expectations.


In 2005, a new legion of admirers discovered Iris through the MET exhibition, which showcased her ability to mix high and low fashion with unparalleled creativity. Her philosophy was simple: fashion should be fun and an expression of individuality, a belief she held until the end.


At 97, she signed with IMG, joining the ranks of fashion's most renowned models, further proving that style knows no age. Tributes poured in following her passing, with figures like Maria Shriver and Lenny Kravitz celebrating her remarkable life, one lived with the utmost zest, style, and grace.

Iris Apfel's life story is a rich tapestry woven with the threads of fashion, design, and an unyielding zest for life. Her legacy as a 'Rare Bird' in fashion will continue to inspire generations to come. Rest in beauty, Iris. Your style and spirit are eternally woven into the fabric of the world.


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