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Iris Apfel and Her Impact on the Fashion Industry

by Lois Geal

Style icon Iris Apfel recently passed aged 102. The news was announced on Instagram on March 1st via Apfel's official Instagram page. “Iris Barrel Apfel. August 29, 1921 - March 1, 2024,” the photo’s caption read. The picture featured Apfel in a billowing black dress with glittering gold details, a large statement collar, and a pair of her signature round glasses. This particular pair featured unique 100-shaped frames.



Apfel founded the international textile manufacturing company Old World Weavers in 1950 with her late husband, Carl Apfel. She later caught the eye of the fashion world for her bold style and bolder personality, well-known for mixing larger-than-life silhouettes with even bigger baubles. She was rarely seen without a pair of round glasses or a red lip. 


In 2005, her sense of style was celebrated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in a show titled “Rara Avis,” which is Latin for “rare bird.”


Apfel entered the fashion industry's consciousness in her eighties when her wardrobe formed the 2005 exhibition titled Rara Avis: Selections From The Iris Barrel Apfel Collection at the Costume Institute, which explored 'the power of dress and accessories to assert style above fashion'. 


She also featured in campaigns for the likes of Coach and Kate Spade.


Apfel was famous for her irreverent, eye-catching outfits, mixing haute couture and oversized costume jewelry. A classic Apfel look would, for instance, pair a feather boa with strands of chunky beads, bangles and a jacket decorated with Native American beadwork.


With her big, round, black-rimmed glasses, bright red lipstick and short white hair, she stood out at every fashion show she attended. Her style was the subject of museum exhibits and a documentary film, “Iris,” directed by Albert Maysles.


“I’m not pretty, and I’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter,” she once said. “I have something much better. I have style.”


Apfel enjoyed late-in-life fame on social media, amassing nearly 3 million followers on Instagram, where her profile declares: “More is more & Less is a Bore.” On TikTok, she drew 215,000 followers as she waxed wise on things fashion and style and promoted recent collaborations.


Her originality is typically revealed in her mixing of high and low fashions — Dior haute couture with flea market finds, 19th-century ecclesiastical vestments with Dolce & Gabbana lizard trousers.” The museum said her “layered combinations” defied “aesthetic conventions” and “even at their most extreme and baroque” represented a “boldly graphic modernity.”


She also designed a line of accessories and jewellery for Home Shopping Network, collaborated with H&M on a sold-out-in-minutes collection of brightly-colored apparel, jewelry and shoes, put out a makeup line with Ciaté London, an eyeglass collection with Zenni and partnered with Ruggable on floor coverings.


Asked for her fashion advice, she said, “Everybody should find her own way. I’m a great one for individuality. I don’t like trends. If you get to learn who you are and what you look like and what you can handle, you’ll know what to do.”

  

She called herself the “accidental icon,” which became the title of a book she published in 2018 filled with her mementos and style musings. Odes to Apfel are abundant, from a Barbie in her likeness to T-shirts, glasses, artwork and dolls.

  

Forever known as an American businesswoman, interior designer, fashion designer as well as actress, Iris Apfel, like many other fashion icons across the world, will be remembered with fond hearts and inspired individuals, both within the fashion industry and fashion lovers alike. Towards the astonishing age of 102, Iris has given many pieces of advice and wisdom to those wanting to define their own style. 

  

And so she shall continue doing so in the future to come; with her vibrant personality and inspiring outlook on fashion. May she rest in peace. 

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