Fashion luminary Iris Apfel passes away at 102, leaving an indelible mark on the world of style

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Iris Apfel

2nd March 2024 – (New York) The world bids farewell to a beacon of sartorial brilliance and a maven of modern design, Iris Apfel, as her esteemed life drew to a close on Friday in Palm Beach. At the venerable age of 102, the icon’s passing was confirmed by her representatives. Her legacy endures, woven into the very fabric of fashion and design history.

Iris Barrel, born in 1921 and raised in the burgeoning borough of Queens, New York, was the progeny of an entrepreneurial family. Her academic pursuits in art and art history laid the groundwork for what would be a storied career. The budding creative spirit cut her teeth as a copywriter with Women’s Wear Daily, honing her keen eye for design.

In tandem with her husband Carl, 1950 marked the inception of their textile venture, which would later play a pivotal role in the historic restorations of America’s most iconic residence, the White House, under the watch of nine different administrations from Truman to Clinton.

Iris’s sartorial flair was unmistakable; her ensembles were a visual symphony of eclectic accessories, her signature oversized spectacles framing the visage of a woman who lived a life less ordinary. Her indomitable spirit and vibrant persona earned her the affectionate moniker of “geriatric starlet”, a title she embraced with the same aplomb with which she adorned her many layers of baubles and beads.

With age, her star did not diminish but rather gained luminescence. At the nonagenarian mark, she lectured at the University of Texas at Austin. The documentary “Iris” by Albert Maysles, released when she was 94, captured the essence of her enduring vivacity. By the age of 97, the fashion industry lauded her once more as she ventured into professional modelling, her visage gracing campaigns for illustrious brands and leading to her being the nonagenarian muse for dolls crafted in her likeness by Mattel.

Apfel’s life was a tapestry of achievements, not least being the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s 2005 retrospective, Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Unprecedented, it celebrated the style of a non-designer still with us, cementing her impact on fashion and cultural heritage.

Her memoir, “Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon”, published in 2018, offers a window into her philosophic approach to life and style. It was not just about clothes but about the freedom of expression. Recounting to NPR in 2015, Apfel reflected on her influence, recalling a woman’s revelation that Iris’s example had empowered her to embrace individuality not only in dress but also in thought.