Iris Apfel - The Enduring Influence of Iris Apfel: Style Icon and Businesswoman - 02/Mar/2024

Iris Apfel – The Enduring Influence of Iris Apfel: Style Icon and Businesswoman – 02/Mar/2024

The Enduring Influence of Iris Apfel: Style Icon and Businesswoman

Iris Apfel is an American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon known for her eclectic style and vibrant personality. Her unique approach to fashion, characterized by oversized glasses, colorful clothing, and massive amounts of costume jewelry, has inspired and influenced both the fashion industry and cultural perceptions of aging with style.

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Born Iris Barrel on August 29, 1921, in Astoria, Queens, New York, Apfel developed a love for fashion and design at a young age. After studying art history at New York University and attending art school at the University of Wisconsin, she began her career as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily and interior designer.

In 1948, she married Carl Apfel and they launched “Old World Weavers,” a textile firm that became known for its expertise in fabric reproduction and restoration. They worked on several high-profile design restorations, including projects at the White House for nine U.S. presidents beginning with Harry S. Truman.

Becoming a Fashion Icon

Apfel’s vivid style gained more public attention when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute showcased her personal collection in 2005 with the exhibition “Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection.” The exhibit highlighted her ability to mix high-end fashion with flea-market finds creating a distinctive, bold aesthetic. This unveiling catapulted her into the limelight as a true fashion icon.

From there, her fame only grew, and she became known for blurring the line between fashion and fine art through her transcendent personal look. At an age when many might consider retiring, Apfel signed with renowned modeling agency IMG at the age of 97—redefining expectations for senior models in an industry typically focused on youth.

Business Ventures and Collaborations

Aside from her interior design company, Apfel has collaborated with major brands contributing her unique sense of style. Such collaborations include a makeup collection with MAC Cosmetics emphasizing bold colors and a jeweled centenarian themed Barbie doll styled after her. Her partnerships exemplify how fashion brands value her influence regardless of generational trends.

Cultural Impact and Philosophy

Iris Apfel’s cultural impact extends beyond fashion into broader conversations about aging and beauty standards. She challenges ageist stereotypes instilling confidence in older individuals while encouraging them to maintain their uniqueness. Her approach to personal style—unencumbered by societal norms—advocates for self-expression.

In her public appearances and interviews, Apfel emphasizes that style is not about spending money or wearing brand-names but rather about self-awareness and authenticity. Her iconoclastic take on what it means to be fashionable defies expectations and offers a refreshing perspective on individuality amidst a sometimes-homogeneous fashion landscape.

Legacy in Arts and Fashion Education

Her legacy includes education as well; Apfel has contributed significantly through lectures at universities offering students wisdom from her decades of experience. She also granted access to her personal archives for academic study and engendered several books documenting her life and work ethos.

Recognizing her exemplary contribution to both arts and business she’s received numerous awards including an honorary doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Human Ecology where she once studied.


  • Iris Apfel had a Barbie doll released in her honor as part of Mattel’s “Role Models” series.
  • She studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin.
  • The “Rara Avis” exhibition showcased unconventional pieces from all around the world highlighting Iris Apfel’s eclectic taste.
  • In 2016, documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles released “Iris,” a film that detailed Apfel’s life and influence on fashion.
  • At 97 years old, she signed with IMG, displaying that age is not a barrier in an industry obsessed with youth.
  • Image description

    An iris flower brilliantly framed within pops of color mountain rosy voguish fabrics represents Iris Apfel—a projection spotlighting emboldened eyewear ultimately pay tribute to the empressed motif stylings of a luminary whose essence radiates beyond temporal trendlines.