Iris, now 94, was born in Astoria in Queens. She studied art history at New York University, and then attended art school at the University of Wisconsin. As a young adult, she worked for Women’s Wear Daily, as well as for an interior designer. She was always interested in style and design, but when she was married in 1948, she and her husband began a textile company called Old World Weavers that allowed them to travel around the world. Their design firm was responsible for many projects, including the redecoration of The White House under Truman and Clinton. It was during her times traveling for her design firm that she was exposed to fashion across the world, and she became fascinated with the elaborate and decorated non-Western styles.
The show was exhibited at The Costume Institute and consisted of a variety of pieces, all put together by Iris. The show was a last-minute substitute for an exhibition that fell through, so there was little time for promotion. It was a modest display, but people loved it. Seeing a woman of her age unabashedly wearing such eccentric clothing delighted audiences.
Since then, a documentary simply titled Iris has been made about her life. The film, made by Albert Maysles, shows Apfel confidently living her life. It shows her working hard and being active, even in her older age. In interviews promoting the film, Apfel discusses how there’s no reason that women in their seventies and eighties should be neglected by the fashion industry. ‘They have the time and the economic resources. They want to go shopping.’ she says.
Apfel has refused to be shut out of the industry she loves due to age and, since her rise to fame, other older women have been able to come into the spotlight. Barneys New York cast Stephanie Seymour and Pat Cleveland in its ‘better than ever’ campaign, and Saint Laurent cast 72-year-old folk icon Joni Mitchell.
Apfel praises individuality, saying that fashion isn’t about pleasing others. She’s always been frustrated with everyone looking the same in fashion, when really it should be an individual expression of yourself.
Iris Apfel is an icon for a multitude of reasons – for her fearlessness, her outspokenness, and her conviction to never let her age stop her, determine what she does, or hold her back.