Fashion icon, interior designer, and furniture maker Iris Apfel dies at 102


Fashion icon, interior designer, and furniture maker Iris Apfel dies at 102

Iris Apfel (Waiam Cia/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Iris Apfel, the fashion icon who got her start as an interior designer, died on March 1 at her home in Palm Beach, Florida. Apfel’s passing was confirmed by Lori Sale, her commercial agent. She was 102 years old.

“Working alongside her was the honor of a lifetime,” Sale said in a statement. “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. 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.”

Apfel (née Iris Barrel) was born on August 29, 1921 into a family of Russian Jewish emigres. As a young child she lived in Astoria, Queens, but was raised on a farm outside Manhattan. Her father ran a glass mirror business and her mother owned a fashion boutique. Apfel began her fine jewelry collection during her childhood trips to Greenwich Village.

As a teenager, Apfel began thinking about a career in interior design after her father was hired to install mirrors at actress Elsie de Wolfe’s apartment in the Plaza Hotel. Apfel’s father brought her to meet de Wolfe at her apartment, where she said she was mesmerized. “I was in my early teens, and of course my eyes almost popped,” Apfel once told designer Hutton Wilkinson“She had Blu Blu [her poodle] in her lap…and Elsie would sit there like she was holding court. She would never get out of bed.”


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Apfel later studied art history at New York University and then received an art degree from the University of Wisconsin. After finishing her art degree, Apfel returned to New York. There, she got her start as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily, and later in the office of interior designer Elinor Johnson, and illustrator Robert Goodman.

Over time, Apfel also worked for other celebrities like Greta Garbo, Estée Lauder, Faye Dunaway, and Joan Rivers. At Old World Weavers, Apfel combined her interests in art history, interior design, and fashion. “Fashion and interior design are one and the same,” Apfel said.

In describing her fashion lines, Apfel liked to say: “More is more and less is a bore.” Apfel’s taste in fashion, namely her trademark dresses and big round glasses, became her signature. Her garb was so iconic, MoMA and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts each dedicated exhibitions to her wardrobe.

Much later in life, Apfel gained a gargantuan social media following: In her 90s, Apfel had 3.5 million followers on social media. In 2017, Apfel launched her first furniture line for HSN with Cloth & Company. In 2018, Mattel made a Barbie doll Apfel. In 2019, at age 97, she signed a modeling contract with the global agency IMG.

Today, plans are underway at the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History in Boynton Beach, Florida to create a new building that will house Apfel’s amassed collection of clothes, accessories, furniture, and ephemera more broadly that tells her remarkable life story.