Iris Apfel was born Iris Barrel in New York City in 1921. Highly influenced by her mother, Sadye, who owned a fashion boutique, Iris became interested in fashion at a young age. After studying art history at NYU, she worked for the well-known fashion magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, as well as for an interior designer.
With her husband Carl, she opened a textile firm called Old World Weavers, running it together until 1992. For forty years, from 1950 to 1992 she engaged in several design restoration projects, including working for the First Ladies of nine different presidents, from Truman to Clinton.
Through the years Apfel built up a large and elaborate collection of clothing, jewelry and accessories of every kind, from the cheapest baubles to the most expensive jewels and fabrics. She was relatively unknown until 2005, when the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York featured an exhibit on Apfel’s personal style called: “Rara Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel.” The exhibition was a huge success, and brought Apfel into the glare of the public spotlight.
Her next step up the fame ladder came when iconic filmmaker Albert Maysles made a documentary about her, called Iris. It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2014.
In 2016, the Women Together foundation honored Iris for her lifelong support and dedication of artisans all over the world. The award was present to Apfel at the United Nations, in the Delegates General Assembly hall.
Iris Apfel’s modesty and joie de vie are well-known, calling herself the “geriatric starlet” with surprise and an element of disbelief.