Iris Apfel - The Queen of Chic

Iris Apfel - what can I say - she is one of the most fascinating women to have graced this earth. An interior designer and lover of contemporary jewelry and vintage finds...a woman after my own heart.

Even if you think you don’t know who she is, you’ve probably seen her. With her iconic short white hair, eccentric outfits, and oversized 'owl' glasses, she’s been in ad campaigns and television commercials for everything from paint to blinds, cars to clothing, and window blinds to luxury plumbing fixtures.

Known as “The Rare Bird of Fashion,” Iris has always rejected the rules of style. Whether wearing blue jeans long before it was acceptable for women to do so or piling on strand after strand of beads from New York City’s many hole-in-the-wall shops, she puts together outfits as if they were her own original works of art.

“I like to improvise,” Iris says in the wonderful PBS documentary by the late Albert Maysles about her life, “I always think I like to do things as though I’m playing jazz – Try this, try that.”

Images via Pinterest

Here are a few photos of Iris's Park Avenue apartment in New York City...she decorates the way she dresses - as she famously said, "More is more and less is a bore."  Love that!

Images via Pinterest

Born in Astoria, New York to a father who worked in his family’s glass and mirror business and a mother who owned a fashion boutique, Iris studied art history at NYU and went to art school at the University of Wisconsin.  She worked for Women’s Wear Daily, interior designer Elinor Johnson, and fashion illustrator Robert Goodman before starting her own interior design firm. 

The story goes that when Iris couldn’t find the exact fabric she wanted for a client’s home, she approached a fabric mill about having it made. When that very fabric design sold like gangbusters for the mill, the owner asked Iris and Carl, her late husband whom she married in 1948, to go into business with him. Thus began Old World Weavers, a textile company that catered to designers and celebrities with the most discerning tastes.

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Iris and Old World Weavers were tapped for White House design and restoration projects under no less than nine presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. The Apfels eventually sold their company to Stark, which still produces and sells hundreds of their fabric designs today.

Take a look at some of them...beautiful!

Images via Stark

Iris’s travels around the globe with Carl to find collections and inspiration for Old World Weavers truly breathed life into her singular personal style. She knew just where to go for the best finds – Italy for silks, Istanbul for harem jewelry, and London for the richly embroidered antique church vestments she’s collected for years.

Despite owning an amazing collection of couture and rare vintage clothing, Iris said, "I'm an accessories freak, I guess I got that from my mother," who was apparently a genius at transforming her own wardrobe of a few staple pieces of clothing with jewelry and scarves.

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In 2005 the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York premiered an exhibition about Iris's style entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird). Ever since then, the designer has been best known for what she wears. There is no one, and I mean no one who dresses the way Iris does!

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In addition to her other achievements, Iris has an HSN jewelry and handbag collection, a clothing line at Macys, has had several modeling gigs (including one for Kate Spade) and is currently writing a book called "Musings."

In 2013 she was listed as one of the 50 "Best Dressed Over 50" by The Guardian.

In 2016, she performed in a television commercial for the French car DS3, and was the face of Australian brand Blue Illusion.  In March 2016, Apfel announced a collaboration with technology startup WiseWear on an upcoming line of Smart Jewelry.

Here are my takeaways from Iris’s amazing life and fabulous style.

  • Be fearless – be whatever and whoever you want to be.
  • Mix high end with low end, big and bold with streamlined and simple.
  • You can make a room or an outfit extra special just by including one over-scaled accessory.
  • Travel as much as you possibly can – it changes your perspective on everything!

She is an inspiration to all women, but especially women over 50!  She inspires me everyday. I want to be Iris when I grow up! 

Who inspires you?