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By CARRIE SCOZZARO
rare bird. Fashion icon. Geriatric Starlet.
At almost 101 years old – her birthday is August 29th – Iris Apfel has adopted many nicknames, including some that she has given herself.
First lady of fabric
“First Lady of Fabric” grew out of Apfel’s decades of work in the textile field through a succession of Presidents from Truman to Clinton.
“One of America’s foremost style makers,” the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art called Apfel when the Costume Institute displayed a tiny portion of her substantial costume jewelry and fashion collection. Included in the 2005 exhibition were Apfel’s trademark oversized glasses and outfits that highlight Apfel’s signature style: a surprisingly cohesive cacophony of competing patterns, textures and colors.
The Apple exhibition, entitled “Rara Avis (rare bird)”, marked the first time the institute had featured a non-designer, elevating Apple to the height of internationally acclaimed fashion mavericks such as Coco Chanel, Prada and Alexander McQueen.
The oldest living teenager in the world
“World’s oldest living teenager,” Apple called himself in a 2019 interview about representing Magnum ice cream for an ad campaign titled “Never Stop Playing.” At the age of 97, Apfel signed an international modeling contract that same year and just a year after he was immortalized in the form of a Barbie doll.
“Geriatric Starlet” is another of Apfel’s nicknames for herself. She adopted the nickname in her second book, Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon—Musings of a Geriatric Starlet.
Apple never wanted to be an icon.
Born to Iris Barrel in Queens, New York, Apfel credits her family with sparking her curiosity about fabrics and pattern in particular, two of the things Apfel is known for. Apple’s mother owned a fashion boutique and her grandmother let her play with scraps of fabric.
In several interviews, Apfel describes how she was also influenced by early explorations of Manhattan’s vibrant and diverse cultural landscape, including a thriving vintage and apparel scene.
Apfel stayed close to home to study art history at New York University and then headed west to attend art school at the University of Wisconsin. After college, Apfel joined Women’s Wear Daily as a copywriter as it transformed from a textile industry trade journal into a burgeoning fashion magazine.
In 1948, Apfel married the love of her life, Carl Apfel, a textile merchant (he died in 2015, a year after the release of Apfel’s self-titled documentary Iris).
Together the couple founded Old World Weavers in 1950, specializing in the manufacture of historical reproductions of mainly 17th, 18th and 19th century European patterns. They worked in a Manhattan showroom but traveled all over the world, allowing Apfel to shop for clothing in both vintage shops and high-end fashion venues, searching for costume jewelry, unusual decor, and one-of-a-kind textiles.
In the Venn diagram of Apfel’s life, textiles intersected with fashion and interior design, which she followed with relative anonymity outside of her native New York City until the Metropolitan Exhibition in 2005. From there, Apple’s fame and fortune grew.
One thing that hasn’t grown, however, is Apple’s ego.
In an interview accompanying the 2018 book launch, Apfel described why, despite her enviable success, she chose not to write a memoir or create a “how-to” book.
“I find how-to books rather insulting. It’s not my place to tell you how to dress or what to do. I think it should be an individual matter,” she was quoted as saying.
Instead, the book contains random “thoughts” that her audience of all ages might appreciate, including her 1,065,059 (counting tendency) Facebook followers (facebook.com/IrisApfelofficial) and her more than two million Instagram followers (#irisapfel ).
Both sites give a good impression of Apple’s fandom, who are shown sharing photos of their children, dogs or themselves dressed as Apple; the artwork fans make about apple; and projects inspired by the centenarian.
And the last chapter in the book? “How to live to be 200.” ISI