HomeLife StyleFashion icon and ‘geriatric starlet’ Iris Apfel dies aged 102

Fashion icon and ‘geriatric starlet’ Iris Apfel dies aged 102

American interior designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel has died at the age of 102.

The self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” worked for decades in the textile industry before she soared to fame as an octogenarian with recognition of her eccentric design sense.

Apfel’s signature look was characterised by her oversized glasses, layers of chunky jewellery and colourful and eclectic clothing, with her bob-cut white hair.

The death of the “extraordinary” Apfel was confirmed by her commercial agent, Lori Sale, who did not provide a cause of death. It is believed she died at her home in Palm Beach, Florida.

The news came on her verified Instagram page on Friday, which a day earlier had celebrated that Leap Day represented her 102nd-and-a-half birthday.

Born on 29 August 1921 to a Jewish family in New York, Apfel began by studying the history of art and specialised in interior design, becoming an expert on textiles and antique fabrics.

She and her husband Carl Apfel owned a textile manufacturing company, Old World Weavers, and specialised in restoration work, including projects at the White House under six different US presidents. Apfel‘s celebrity clients included Estee Lauder and Greta Garbo.

Iris Apfel attends the Joanna Mastroianni Fall 2013 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on 10 February 2013

(Joe Kohen/Getty Images for Joanna Mastroianni))

Apfel’s public profile skyrocketed in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City curated a show dedicated to her, titled Rara Avis, which means “rare bird” in Latin.

The museum celebrated her style, describing it as “both witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic”. It happened out of sheer luck as the museum was looking for a last-minute replacement but ended up becoming a hit and gained an avalanche of publicity.

She amassed nearly 3 million followers on Instagram, where her profile declares: “More is more & Less is a Bore”. On TikTok, she drew a following of 215,000 as she shared insights on fashion and style while also promoting her recent collaborations.

“Being stylish and being fashionable are two entirely different things,” she said in one TikTok video. “You can easily buy your way into being fashionable. Style, I think is in your DNA. It implies originality and courage.”

Iris Apfel attends front row at Monse in 2016

(Getty Images)

In 2011, she told The New York Times: “When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.”

She then became a subject of the documentary Iris, an Albert Maysles production first aired in 2014. It became available for movie enthusiasts a year later in America and Britain.

It was hailed by movie critic Manohla Dargis of The New York Times as “an insistent rejection of monocultural conformity” and “a delightful eye-opener about life, love, statement eyeglasses, bracelets the size of tricycle tires and the art of making the grandest of entrances”.

Iris Apfel attends the 25th Annual ACE Awards on 2 November 2021

(Getty Images for Accessories Cou)

In 2016, Apfel appeared in a television commercial for the French car DS 3, became the ambassador for the Australian brand Blue Illusion, and initiated a collaboration with the start-up WiseWear. The following year, Mattel crafted a unique Barbie doll in her likeness, although it was not available for sale.

She described herself as the “accidental icon”, which later became the title of her autobiography she published in 2018 filled with her mementoes and style musings.

When asked for fashion advice in 2017 by the Associated Press, 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.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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