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Iris Apfel is Ready for Her Close-up

This “rare bird” spent a lengthy career in antique textiles and design restoration, but her latest title — fashion icon — has been a lifetime in the making. Since her days as an art-education student, Apfel has been refining a bold personal style, which includes her signature oversized and utterly round eyeglasses.

June 01, 2015

Iris Apfel, the  flamboyant 93-year-old style maven has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. She is a 2013 WAA Distinguished Alumni Award winner and is now the subject of a documentary from Albert Maysles (GREY GARDENS, GIMME SHELTER)- See more at:

This “rare bird” spent a lengthy career in antique textiles and design restoration, but her latest title — fashion icon — has been a lifetime in the making. For Apfel, style isn’t just about clothes; it’s about developing a sense of self-confidence that can spill over to every area of one’s life. Since her days as an art education student at the UW, Apfel has been refining a bold personal aesthetic that relies heavily on multicultural elements informed by her world travels and includes her signature: oversized and utterly round eyeglasses.

After transferring to the UW from New York University, Apfel was in need of a few extra credits. She enrolled in a museum administration course, and the budding aficionado of all things improvisational and eclectic decided to write her class term paper about American jazz. Unable to find any library books on the subject, Apfel headed to Chicago to interview some of the scene’s most illustrious figures — including Duke Ellington, with whom she developed a lifelong friendship. As for the paper: Apfel says she received an A-plus.

Apfel returned to her native New York after graduation to write for Women’s Wear Daily, and she traveled extensively with her husband, Carl. In 1950 the two founded Old World Weavers, an influential international textile house that specialized in design restoration projects. The White House was a regular client, and over the course of nine presidencies, the Apfels became the go-to source for replicas of historical curtains, furniture, and drapes.

They retired after selling the company in 1992, but Apfel’s passion for interior decorating is still evidenced by her regularly photographed apartment. Lushly furnished with art and antique Italian furniture, the apartment is well known for featuring offbeat items, such as eccentric figurines, fake fruit, and a stuffed parrot.


As Apfel has told numerous fashion editors, she’s become a “geriatric starlet” and is somewhat bemused by the recent surge in attention to her style, which curators describe as an original blend of high and low fashions. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited selections from Apfel’s extensive personal wardrobe in a show titled “Rara Avis.” Next came a book about her style published in 2007, titled Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Soon she will be the subject of a documentary by Albert Maysles, the filmmaker behind the original Grey Gardens.

Currently, Apfel is developing accessory lines for older women and inspiring younger fashion gurus, most recently as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

- From On Wisconsin Magazine, Summer 2014

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