Iris Apfel – a rare bird

"Style is all a matter of attitude and how you wear it. I'm hardly a minimalist."

Iris Apfel’s unique look would be OTT in many people’s eyes. But peel back the many layers of bangles, necklaces and accessories, of every colour imaginable, all piled on her tiny frame, and underneath you’ll find a true style setter.

Iris Barrel (cool name) was born in Queens. Her father owned a glass and mirror business, her Russian-born mother owned a fashion boutique and her Russian grandfather was a master tailor. How could she not have style in her genes?

“My mother worshipped at the altar of accessories and I got the bug”

“When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else”

As a young woman, she worked for Women’s Wear Daily. After marrying Carl Apfel in 1948, they launched Old World Weavers – which they ran until their retirement in 92 – providing curtains, furniture and drapes for the White House through nine presidential administrations.

“You only have one trip you might as well enjoy it”

Iris ApfelOddly, Iris was 83 when she stepped onto the celebrity stage. New York’s Metropolitan Museum staged an exhibition of her wardrobe in 2005. The Met had never before honoured a living woman who wasn’t a designer, and the show delighted the fashion industry who loved her unique and flamboyant style.

photo by Rob Rich © 2011

“More is more, less is a bore”

In her ‘retirement’, she remains a savvy businesswoman and has launched several new ranges, from a handbag collection named Extinctions by Iris Apfel, to a Home Shopping Network line of offbeat and ethnically influenced jewellery, under the name Rara Avis (meaning rare bird). The team at Jimmy Choo even named a collection after her.

“My look is either very baroque or very Zen… everything in between makes me itch”

The self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” talks career highs and guilty pleasures with friend and founder of Advanced Style – Ari Seth Cohen.

Iris is now 96 and doesn’t show any signs of slowing – or dressing – down. What a legend.

Credit where credit’s due:
Iris Apfel photo by Rob Rich © 2011