Apfel made a name for herself as a businesswoman and interior designer who launched her own textile company, Old World Weavers, back in the 1950s. She continued to grow her status, working on nine White House restoration projects.
Iris Apfel over the years
Iris Apfel over the years
499 PARK AVENUE (59TH AND PARK), NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Iris Apfel and Michel Bernardaud attend the launch of the jewellery collaboration at Bernardaud Boutique in New York. (Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
499 PARK AVENUE (59TH AND PARK), NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Iris Apfel attends the launch of her jewellery collaboration at Bernardaud Boutique in New York. (Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 02: Iris Apfel attends the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation's Ninth Annual Fall Symposium + Luncheon at The Pierre Hotel on November 2, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY SEPTEMBER 09: Iris Apfel poses backstage at 'My Life On A Diet' at the Theatre at St Clement's Church on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo By Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: Iris Apfel attends the 22nd Annual Accessories Council ACE Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Designer Iris Apfel(L) and Fern Mallis pose for a photo at 92nd Street Y on May 2, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Iris Apfel attends the premiere of 'Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards', hosted by Manolo Blahnik with The Cinema Society at The Frick Collection on September 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: Iris Apfel attends the Calvin Klein Collection fashion show during New York Fashion Week on September 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Iris Apfel attends the Iris Apfel Dinner previewing her HSN Collection at The Polo Bar on April 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for HSN)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Iris Apfel attends the 4th Annual 'Eight Over Eighty' Benefit Gala Honors at Mandarin Oriental New York on April 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: Iris Apfel attends 17th Edition of LOOT: MAD About Jewelry at Museum Of Arts And Design on April 3, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Recipient of the Icon Award, Iris Apfel attends the 30th FN Achievement awards at IAC Headquarters on November 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27: Iris Apfel attends Fashion Group International's 2016 Night of Stars at Cipriani Wall Street on October 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 25: Fashion maven Iris Apfel boxes New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at the TAG Heuer 'Don't Crack Under Pressure' Muhammad Ali tribute at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn on October 25, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 6: Iris Apfel attends Iris Apfel x Happy Socks Launch at Gramercy Park Hotel on October 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Iris Apfel & Happy Socks)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Iris Apfel discusses the 'Iris Meets INC' fall fashion colection at Macys Hearlad Square on September 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Zak Photography/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Iris Apfel attends the Naeem Khan fashion show during September 2016 New York Fashion Week at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/WireImage)
Portrait of, from left, American businesswoman Iris Apfel, her husband Carl Apfel, and Italian fashion designer Mariuccia Mandelli as they attend the latter's Krizia exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery, New York, New York, 1999. (Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 27: Iris Apfel attends "FIGHTER": An Exhibition of Photographs of the Fighters of the UFC by REED KRAKOFF at Staley Wise Gallery on October 27, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by JOE SCHILDHORN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 20: Arlene Dahl and Iris Apfel attend "LIGHT YEARS" - LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL Salutes the Arts at Cipriani 42nd Street on October 20, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by BILLY FARRELL/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - DECEMBER 8: Iris Apfel and Barbara Bloemink attend Cooper-Hewitt FASHION IN COLORS Exhibition Opening and Reception at Cooper-Hewitt on December 8, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 19: Ralph Rucci and Iris Apfel attend FIT's Couture Council to Honor Ralph Rucci at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 19, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Photo by L.Wigger/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JULY 24: Iris Apfel attends TRACY STERN "Dinner Takes All" Garden Party with Swank Productions and SalonTEA at L'OLIVIER on July 24, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Iris Apfel (Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 19: Iris Apfel attends BERGDORF GOODMAN hosts Moschino Dinner in honor of Rossella Jardini at Bergdorf Goodman on October 19, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Iris Apfel attends LTB MEDIA Presents its Newest Publication CULTURE AND TRAVEL at The Louise T Blouin MacBain Residence on September 26, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 7: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel attend Kips Bay Decorator Show House Presidentís Preview at 106 East 71st St on October 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by SHAUN MADER/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Iris Apfel attend(s) PAPER MAGAZINE'S KIM HASTREITER hosts a private luncheon to celebrate WOMANITY by THIERRY MUGLER at The Four Seasons Restaurant on September 28th, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Hunt/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - NOVEMBER 04: Saint Louis Fund 2015 Honoree Iris Apfel accepts her award during the Saint Louis Fashion Fund Gala 2015 on November 4, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Saint Louis Fashion Fund)
ST LOUIS, MO - NOVEMBER 04: Honoree Iris Apfel attends the runway presentation at Caleres Emerging Designer Award Presented by Saint Louis Fashion Fund during Saint Louis Fashion Week on November 4, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Saint Louis Fashion Fund)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Iris Apfel and Christie Brinkley pose backstage as Christie Brinkley returns to the hit musical "Chicago" on Broadway at The Ambassador Theater on April 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage)
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“I’m a do-it-yourself girl. I never expected my life would take this turn, so I never prepared for it,” she said in her interview with WWD. “It all just happened so suddenly, and I thought at my tender age, I’m not going to set up offices and get involved with all kinds of things. I thought it was a flash in the pan and it’s not going to last.”
Even though she’s never had a “proper” representation, she’s no rookie. Apfel starred in campaigns for Kate SpadeOpens a New Window. and MAC Cosmetics as well editorials for publications like Vogue Italia. At 91, she covered Dazed & Confused and became the oldest person ever to be featured in a cover story.
As a stylish older woman, she’s gained many fans amongst the younger millennial demographic, as well as professionals in the fashion industry including designer Tommy Hilfiger who is the one that connected her with IMG.
However her authentic and bold esthetic is only part of her appealOpens a New Window.. Her pluckiness to stay active and busy is something a lot of people look up to. “I don’t think a number should make any difference and make you stop working,” she told WWD. However, she’s never tried to make herself relevant. She just is who she is. And people love it.
“Iris is an icon with immeasurable talent,” said president of IMG Models, Ivan Bart. “She radiates creativity and inspiration and we’re so excited to explore new and unique opportunities with her, where her natural gifts can be shared with the world. At 97 years old, Iris continues to prove that age is just a number and shouldn’t be something that defines you.”
She completely agrees, telling WWD that she loves working and doesn’t want to stop. “I think retirement is a fate worse than death. I love to work, and love my work.” We have a feeling “too old” is a phrase she’s never had and never will use.
More on Iris below:
An Afternoon with Iris Apfel
An Afternoon with Iris Apfel
Tell us a bit about your history in design.
I’ve been in home furnishings and design my whole life. I was at art school at 5 years old. I’ve never been in fashion. I just love beautiful things.
Everyone sees you as a fashion icon. When did people start paying attention to what you were wearing?
Well, they always did. But once I had my show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in ’05, I became an overnight sensation. Really though, my overnight was about 75 years ago. I’m no different now, and I just think it’s hysterical the fuss everyone makes.
Do you remember pieces that you loved when you were younger?
Yes. I think everybody does. I think my favorite was a beige silk jersey dress. It had big sleeves and gold buttons and a belt. I remember being very suntanned, and I wrapped my head with gold mesh. I used to wear turbans all the time. I had gold thong sandals and a beautiful jacket, which my father bought me with some money he’d won.
What was the occasion?
I had a date. I remember we were at the beach and walked up and down the boardwalk. Funny how some things stick. It was very contemporary. I could wear it tomorrow.
Do you still have it?
No, no. I have a lot of stuff, but I don’t have that. I have a dress I wore on my first date with Carl, my husband. It was a beautiful dress — black in a lovely fabric. It had a full skirt, but not too full. The waist was black satin, and it had a black satin collar with buttons on the sides of the sleeves and a pussy cat bow.
Well, it worked.
When did you get married?
We had a very fast courtship. Our first date was Columbus Day. Thanksgiving, he proposed. Christmas, I got my ring. Washington’s birthday, we were married. St. Patrick’s Day, the honeymoon was over. That was 65 and half years ago.
Are there current trends you love?
Which ones do you not like?
Oh, I don’t think we have the time. I love far-out things, but I like them to be appropriate. I don’t think there are things you can or cannot wear just because you’re young or old, but there are certain things that women of a certain age shouldn’t do, like miniskirts. Seventy-year-old knees aren’t pretty. I’m not saying that when you’re old you should wear shackles and ashes. You’ve gotta know who you are and what you look like. It seems like mirrors have gone out of fashion.
It’s a shock to walk on Fifth Avenue. I don’t think we should be dressed up all the time — I’m in jeans right now. If you go out to a fine restaurant, it’s not a hardship for a guy to wear a jacket. I remember Le Pavillon, a great French restaurant, had a strict dress code. I went once in a Le Smoking pants suit in beautiful brown silk, velvet, and cream satin — divine. They said women couldn’t wear pants. Fortunately, the jacket was long enough and my legs were good, so I dined in just my jacket.
Do you have any favorite jeans?
Whatever fits. Lately, I’ve discovered Diane Gilman on HSN. Her size four fits like they were made for me, but I prefer men’s jeans. The prices today are just insane. I can, however, understand the expense if they’re embellished or designed in an interesting way. Jeans are just great. You can dress them up or down and still look neat and clean.
I’ll never forget staying in Tunisia for the summer many years ago. We were very friendly with the Tunisian ambassador and his brother was the head of the textile industry there. We went to one of his factories where they were weaving denim. He told us Pierre Cardin had bought a house in Hammamet and asked him to make jeans. In the back there must have been three stories piled with jeans. He charged us $1 a pair. And they had the Pierre Cardin label.
You have a lot of animals around. Do you have a favorite?
I love them all. I love the doggie over there holding stuff. When I first started my decorating business, I passed an antiques shop every day and he appeared. I walked in and said, “How much is that doggie in the window?” I didn’t have the money, so I would go in every day and say hello because I loved him madly. Months later the dog disappeared and I was crushed, but the shop owner (a good friend by then) said he’d gone to a nice lady. Years passed and he reappeared in her window because Mrs. So-and-So had downsized and sold him back. I told her the doggie was mine and to send him over, but I should have said send him home. When I got back to my showroom the guy who worked for me said, “Oh, Iris, we’ve never made a sale so fast. The doggie came in with a bell, and a woman saw him and had to have him. I put a huge markup on it, and she bought it.” I berated that poor boy. I told him to call the lady and tell her he’d made a mistake. I had to have my dog.
What's your favorite room in the house?
I like them all. Some are stuffed to the gills, but I always spend a lot of time [in the main living room]. It’s all very comfortable. We have a TV in the other room, but we’re not big watchers. My husband likes old movies, and I’m a late-night political junkie. I find it hideous and fascinating, what’s going on in the world.
Do you have a favorite movie?
There’s a few I’ve seen in my day that I like. I love Gigi.
What about some of the classics, likeCasablanca or any of Audrey Hepburn’s films?
Oh, I loved Casablanca and Sabrina.
That was the first film for which she worked with Givenchy.
Yes, such beautiful clothes. And what’s the one she did with Fred Astaire?
Oh, of course. I have to say if there was anyone who influenced me in the movies, it was Rosalind Russell. She fascinated me. I saw her when she was in the original Auntie Mame on Broadway, and she wore some pretty fabulous clothes then.
How do you put together your outfits?
I’m always in a hurry and do everything myself — I have no assistants besides an accountant. I’m a lunatic in the morning, and I keep wearing the same damn thing because it’s easy. I love putting stuff together, time permitting. I’m very casual, and I don’t sit up nights and think or worry about clothes. They’re beautiful and fun, but they’re hardly my everything. I have a very rich life outside of fashion.
How did your jewelry lines come about?
I’ve always loved jewelry and collected it since I was 11 years old in Astoria, Queens, where my grandparents were settlers. I took a fancy to New York City, and it only cost a nickel on the subway to get there. I skipped school every Thursday afternoon to go explore. I was most taken with Greenwich Village — it was a romance with the end of bohemia. I found a little shop in a tenement run by a Mr. Darrus. He was the picture of decadent elegance. He wore a suit that was threadbare, but he always had a handkerchief, boutonniere, spats, and monocle. He was enchanted with me because he’d never seen a kid who was so interested in all his crap. To me his shop was Aladdin’s cave. I became fixated on a particular brooch. It was a button made from antique gold with filigree and Tiffany-set diamonds. I was gaga over it, and I saved my pennies and eventually paid 65¢. I still have it.
So that was the start?
After we started our [decorating and antiques] business, we would go to Europe for fabrics and I would buy things. My clients liked offbeat things, and I used to ship at least two 40-foot containers a year back to New York. When that all stopped I still had the in at the flea markets, but my husband said we had no space in the warehouse. I told him jewelry doesn’t take up too much room, but little did we know. Many of my pieces are big. You can’t put them in tiny boxes.
We heard you love a good party.
Oh, of course.
So what makes the party?
Well, most of the parties today are awful. You can’t hear yourself talk, you have to stand, and everybody screams to everybody else. That’s not a party to me. I like a nice dinner with interesting people where you exchange ideas. Alexis Bittar just made me a beautiful little birthday party. And Naeem Khan did one the year before. Usually, I have a problem because my birthday is August 29 and there never is anyone in town.
Say you’re throwing a dinner party. Who’s there?
I would have Bruce Weber, because he’s very interesting and a lot of fun. I love Naeem and Ranjana Khan. Linda Fargo. Harold Koda and his friend, Alan Kornberg. Kenny Weiss is a very dear friend. I don’t like to be bored, and I don’t like to just chitchat.
Talk a bit about your decor. Are there any genres, decades, or styles you prefer?
I like to put together things that supposedly don’t go together, and I like offbeat things — never the standard equipment. I don’t prefer Georgian things, though they can be beautiful, but I love Italian furniture, baroque mainly. I don’t care whether pieces are expensive or junk. I took the idea of my wall paneling from Louis XVI. My two chairs with the orange are Sicilian 18th century.
Are there designers today who intrigue you?
I’m not really up on the new ones. Ralph Rucci is a genius and a friend, and when it comes to red carpet no one holds a candle to Naeem Khan. I also love many of the Italians and Alber Elbaz.