Iris Apfel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Iris Apfel
Iris Apfel at MIFF (cropped).jpg
Apfel at O Cinema Miami Beach to present IRIS, 2015
Iris Barrel

(1921-08-29) August 29, 1921 (age 101)
EducationNew York University
University of Wisconsin
  • Businesswoman
  • Interior designer
  • Fashion designer
  • Model
Years active1950–present
Carl Apfel
(m. 1948; died 2015)

Iris Apfel (née Barrel; born August 29, 1921) is an American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon. In business with her husband, Carl, from 1950 to 1992, Apfel led a career in textiles, including a contract with the White House that spanned nine presidencies. 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 it. She has become a fashion icon, she signed to IMG in 2019 as a model at age 97, and she was featured in a 2014 documentary called Iris by Albert Maysles.

Early life[edit]

Born Iris Barrel in Astoria, Queens, New York on August 29, 1921,[1] Apfel is the only child of Samuel Barrel (1897–1967), whose family owned a glass and mirror business, and his Russian-born wife, Sadye Barrel (née Asofsky) (1898–1998), who owned a fashion boutique.[2] Both were Jewish.[3] Although raised on a farm by her parents and grandparents, she often rode the subway in to explore Manhattan, where she fell in love with Greenwich Village.[4] While still a child, she shopped its antique shops, starting her extraordinary collection of jewellery from around the world.[1]

She studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin.[5]


As a young woman, Apfel worked as a copywriter for Women's Wear Daily, earning $15 a week, and for interior designer Elinor Johnson,[citation needed] dressing apartments for resale and honing her talent for sourcing rare items.[4] She was also an assistant to illustrator Robert Goodman.[2]

On February 22, 1948, she married Carl Apfel (August 4, 1914 – August 1, 2015).[6] Two years later, in 1950, they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they retired in 1992. The Apfels specialised in fabric reproductions 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.[7] The business's New York showroom was located at 115 East 57th Street in Manhattan.[7] Over her career, Iris Apfel took part in a variety of design restoration projects, including work at the White House for nine presidents: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.[7] She found the White House contract to be among the easiest of Old World Weaver's clients, as they generally wanted only to replicate what had previously been in place.[4] The one exception, Apfel said, was Jacqueline 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.”[4]

Through their business, the couple began travelling all over the world where Apfel also bought pieces of non-Western, artisanal clothes. She wore these clothes to clients' high-society parties.[8]

In 2011, Iris Apfel became a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin in its Division of Textiles and Apparel.[9]

In 2016, she performed in a television commercial for the French car DS 3,[10] and was the face of Australian brand Blue Illusion.[11] In March 2016, Apfel announced a collaboration with technology startup WiseWear[12] on an upcoming line of Smart Jewellery.[13] In 2018 she published a biography with HarperCollins entitled Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon.[14]

In 2019, at the age of 97, she signed a modelling contract with global agency IMG.[14] Seeing she was frequently sought out for appearances, Tommy Hilfiger encouraged her to sign with formal representation.[15]


Museum retrospectives[edit]

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.[14] The success of the exhibition, curated by Stéphane Houy-Towner,[16] prompted an initial traveling version of the exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida,[17] the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, New York, and later at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.[18]

The Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History in Boynton Beach, Florida, is designing a building that will house a dedicated gallery of Apfel's clothes, accessories, and furnishings.

Advisory and academic roles[edit]

At age 90 in 2012, Apfel was a visiting professor at University of Texas at Austin.[19]

Apfel consults and lectures about style and other fashion topics. In 2013, she was listed as one of the fifty "Best-Dressed over 50" by The Guardian.[20]


Apfel is the star of a documentary by Albert Maysles, called Iris.[21][22][23][24] It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2014, and was subsequently acquired by Magnolia Pictures for US theatrical distribution in 2015.[25]

Apfel was also featured in the documentary If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, a television film which premiered in 2017.[26][27]

Barbie doll[edit]

In 2018, Mattel created a Barbie doll in Apfel's image, making her the oldest person to ever have a Barbie made in her image[28] and the recipient of the highest honor the Barbie brand bestows.[29] The Barbie, released in conjunction with Apfel's book, was not for sale, but Mattel also made two “Styled by Iris Apfel" Barbie dolls that were commercially available.[7]


Iris Apfel was awarded the Women Together Special Award of the Year at the 12th Annual Women Together Gala at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, June 7, 2016. She was accompanied by other awardees, including Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson, the Punta Cana Foundation, the Loewe Foundation and others. Apfel was handed the award by Malu Edwards Hurley, member of the board of directors of Women Together and MC of the gala event, together with Carlos Jimenez, representative of Spain at the United Nations Headquarters in Brussels.

In November 2016, Apfel was awarded the Women's Entrepreneurship Day Pioneer Award for her work in the fashion field at the United Nations in New York City.[30]

Apfel was honored as The New Jewish Home's Eight over Eighty Gala 2017 honoree.

Personal life[edit]

The Apfels did not have children, partly because of the amount of travel their work necessitated; she did not want children to be raised by a nanny.[4]

Apfel and her husband Carl shared a favorite fragrance: Yatagan by Caron.[31]

Married 67 years, Carl died on August 1, 2015, aged 100.[32] Apfel celebrated her 100th birthday on August 29, 2021.[33]


  1. ^ a b Vargas, Chanel (2017-11-01). "Iris Apfel and Her Husband Carl's Adorable Love Story". Town & Country. Archived from the original on 2021-01-25. Retrieved 2021-04-18.
  2. ^ a b Hodson, Heather (3 March 2007). "Anything goes". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 October 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Iris Apfel: a Jewish Collector of Great Style". The Jewish Daily Forward. 20 November 2009. Archived from the original on 10 May 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e Conner, Megan (2015-07-19). "Iris Apfel: 'People like me because I'm different'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-04-01. Retrieved 2021-04-18.
  5. ^ "Biography". The Business of Fashion. Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  6. ^ Carl Apfel Archived 2017-08-31 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved July 22, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Clifford, Catherine (30 March 2018). "Iris Apfel: 10 life lessons from a 96-year-old who is probably cooler than you". CNBC. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  8. ^ Hodson, Heather. "Anything goes". Archived from the original on 2018-10-12. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
  9. ^ Freehill, Lynn (2012-01-02). "Rare Bird of Fashion--and Academia". The Alcalde. Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  10. ^ "Iris Apfel Does a Cool Car Commercial for the DS3 Facelift". Autoevolution. 9 March 2016. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  11. ^ Jenni Ryall (24 February 2016). "94-year-old fashion icon Iris stars in campaign for Australian fashion brand". Mashable. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Wisewear". Wisewear. Archived from the original on 2017-07-09. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  13. ^ "An Inside Look: WISEWEAR x IRIS Launch Party". 2016-03-31. Archived from the original on 2017-08-31. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  14. ^ a b c Dixon, Emily (2019-02-06). "Iris Apfel signs contract with IMG". CNN Style. Archived from the original on 2019-02-06. Retrieved 2019-02-07.
  15. ^ Lockwood, Lisa (January 31, 2019). "IMG Signs on Iris Apfel: The 97-year-old tastemaker will be represented by the agency for modelling, endorsements and appearances". WWD: Women's Wear Daily – via EBSCOHost.
  16. ^ "Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection". (Press release). Archived from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  17. ^ "Norton Museum of Art Event Info". Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  18. ^ "PEM - Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel « Exhibits". Archived from the original on 2009-10-16.
  19. ^ Staff Writer (5 January 2012). "Rare Bird of Fashion—and Academia". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  20. ^ Cartner-Morley, Jess; Mirren, Helen; Huffington, Arianna; Amos, Valerie (28 March 2013). "The 50 Best-dressed over 50s". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 23 June 2018. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  21. ^ "Iris Apfel is the Goddess of style" Archived 2016-11-13 at the Wayback Machine. Toronto Star, November 11, 2016, Leanne Delap.
  22. ^ Warburton, Sophie (26 August 2011). "Victoria's Secret News". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 9 January 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  23. ^ "First look: Iris Apfel film". Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  24. ^ "Un documentaire sur Iris Apfel". Vogue (in French). Archived from the original on 11 January 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  25. ^ "Magnolia Pictures Acquires 'Iris,' Albert Maysles' NYFF Documentary". 24 October 2014. Archived from the original on 9 January 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  26. ^ "'If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,' a Celebration of Vitality After Age 90 Hosted by Carl Reiner, Debuts June 5, Exclusively on HBO". TVWeek. Archived from the original on 2017-05-12. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  27. ^ 39 forlife (2017-04-10). "Experts share advice on aging gracefully in new HBO documentary". 39 for Life. Archived from the original on 2019-04-28. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  28. ^ Gonzales, Erica (2018-03-28). "Iris Apfel Just Became the Oldest Person to Have a Barbie Made After Her". Harper's BAZAAR. Archived from the original on 2019-02-09. Retrieved 2019-02-07.
  29. ^ Gonzales, Erica (2018-03-28). "Iris Apfel Just Became the Oldest Person to Have a Barbie Made After Her". Harper's BAZAAR. Archived from the original on 2020-09-20. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  30. ^ Wendy Diamond. "Women's Entrepreneurship Day Organization Pioneer Awards 2016 Winners". WED. Archived from the original on July 5, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  31. ^ "Life Lessons with Iris Apfel". Coveteur: Inside Closets, Fashion, Beauty, Health, and Travel. 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2021-05-01.
  32. ^ ""Carl Apfel," Hollywood Reporter". The Hollywood Reporter. 26 August 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-09-28. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  33. ^ "Iris Apfel Celebrates Turning 100 by Sharing Her Best Lessons on Love, Life and Plastic Surgery".