Fashion Community Mourns Revolutionary Iris Apfel, Famed Designer Who Passed Away At 102

Fashion maverick Iris Apfel, known for her bold, unconventional, and eclectic style, has passed away at the age of 102.

After decades of embracing fashion in the loudest way possible, Iris died at home in Palm Beach on March 1.

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The news was confirmed by her agent, Lori Sale, who said it was the “honor of a lifetime” to work with the textile expert, interior designer, and fashion icon.

“Iris Apfel was extraordinary. Working alongside her was the honor of a lifetime. I will miss her daily calls, always greeted with the familiar question: ‘What have you got for me today?’ Testament to her insatiable desire to work,” Lori said in a statement, as quoted by Variety.

Iris Apfel passed away on March 1 at the age of 102

Image credits: Noam Galai/Getty Images

“She was a visionary in every sense of the word. She saw the world through a unique lens – one adorned with giant, distinctive spectacles that sat atop her nose,” Lori continued. “Through those lenses, she saw the world as a kaleidoscope of color, a canvas of patterns and prints. Her artistic eye transformed the mundane into the extraordinary and her ability to blend the unconventional with the elegant was nothing short of magical.”

Iris was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1921 as the only child of Samuel and Sadye Barrel. While she was young, Iris’ grandmother would entertain her by letting her play with fabric scraps, which would be available in plenty in her grandmother’s household because her four daughters often engaged in sewing for charitable purposes.

“She opened one bag, and then another, and what I saw made my eyes pop: a gigantic bunch of little fabric remnants in all sorts of colors and patterns — there were scraps of all kinds, of all shapes and sizes,” Iris wrote in her book, ‘Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon.’

If Iris was well-behaved, her grandmother would allow her to take home six scraps. And thus began Iris’ love for textiles and fabric.

Iris developed a love for fabrics from when she was a child


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A post shared by Iris Apfel (@iris.apfel)

“Obsessed with texture, color, and pattern, I spent whole evenings entertaining myself this way,” she added. “Looking back, it’s very clear playing this way honed my eye and gave me a very deep interest in fabric.”

It was at the age of 11 when Iris made her very first fashion purchase with the $25 her mother gave her to buy an Easter dress. After spending about two nickels or 10 cents for the train trip back and forth, young Iris bought herself a $12.95 dress and spent another $8 on a pair of shoes and a hat to complete her outfit, according to CNN.

She recalled making her first fashion purchase at the age of 11 with the $25 her mother gave her

Image credits: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

“My first big shopping trip [was] when I was 11 or 12. My mother gave me $25 to buy an outfit for the Easter Parade. I bought a beautiful silk dress in pale peach, a straw hat, and a pair of pumps, and I still had money left for coffee and lunch,” she said in an interview with The Guardian.

The fashion maven also said in the interview that she owes her sense of humor, curiosity, and adventure to her parents.

“My father was intellectual and street smart,” she said about Samuel, whose family owned a glass-and-mirror business.

Iris believes her greatest achievement is “lasting this long”


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A post shared by Iris Apfel (@iris.apfel)

She also noted that she learned a lot from her boutique owner mother.

“My mother was unbelievable for her time: she was in law school when she became pregnant with me, so she had to quit, but she went into the fashion boutique business and taught me so many things,” she told the outlet.

Over the years, Iris established herself as a well-renowned interior designer who worked with the wives of nine U.S. presidents in decorating the White House.

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Iris has worked with Estée Lauder, Greta Garbo, and nine U.S. presidents over the years

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In 1948, she married her husband Carl Apfel, whom she described as the greatest love of her life.

“He was a terrific guy, and we were together 68 years. I am grateful the good Lord provided interesting projects for me to do, so I was able to create another life,” she said.

The couple started Old World Weavers in 1950, which allowed Iris to further explore her passion for fabrics as they traveled the world to find the finest cloth materials. Her client list eventually grew to include big-shots like Estée Lauder and Greta Garbo.

Iris and her husband, Carl Apfel, started Old World Weavers in 1950


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A post shared by Iris Apfel (@iris.apfel)

When asked about what she considers as her greatest achievement, Iris said it would be “lasting this long.”

She also remarked that she would like to be remembered “as the world’s oldest living teenager.”

Today, she is remembered for shaping the world of fashion with her vivacious personality. She was best known for her flair of pairing bright colors with statement-making accessories and topping it all off with her saucer-like spectacles, supporting her philosophy: “Fashion should always be fun.”

“I never expected people to know my name or recognize my face. I never expected to be called a fashion icon. I never expected museums to exhibit my clothing and accessories. I never expected to be a cover girl or the face of a cosmetics company in my nineties…” she wrote in her book.

“Fashion should always be fun” was the philosophy Iris lived by

Image credits: Michael Stewart/WireImage

“I never expected anything. I just feel things in my gut and I do them. If something sounds exciting and interesting I do it — and then, I worry about it later. Doing new things takes a lot of energy and strength. It’s very tiring to make things happen, to learn how to master a skill, to push fears aside. Most people would rather just go with the flow; it’s much easier. But it’s not very interesting,” she continued.

Iris never slowed down, even after she established herself as a heavyweight in the industry. She called retirement a “fate worse than death” and remained active after becoming — in her own words — a “geriatric starlet.”

She created her own makeup line with MAC Cosmetics, designed a range of accessories, clothes, and furniture for the Home Shopping Network, and joined Karlie Kloss for a Kate Spade campaign. All of this she did in her 90’s.

Iris never slowed down and always considered age as just a number

Image credits: Brad Barket/Getty Images

“I never think about my age. Maybe that’s the ticket. I never think about it — it’s a passing thought. It’s just a number. … I’ve found that work is very healthy for me. I love what I do and I put my heart and soul into it,” Iris wrote in her book.

In an article she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar in 2020, Iris wrote: “My philosophy is to live in the now – yesterday is gone, you don’t know if there’s even going to be a tomorrow, so you might as well enjoy today. As my husband used to say, you should really live every day as if it were your last, because one day you’ll be right.”

After the fashion icon’s death, fans agreed that her life was well-lived

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