Iris Apfel, My Icon of Style

This is an update to a post originally published November 13, 2014

Iris Apfel, My Icon of Style 

“I never had a fondness for gems or the extravagance

of Harry Winston or Van Cleef & Arpels.

I’ve always liked the more flamboyant, imaginative things.

I lusted after costume jewelry. 

My husband was a very lucky man.”*1


I want to be Iris Apfel when I grow up. At 93 Iris is more of a style icon now than ever before. Having traveled the world several times over she has the confidence to do style her way. And boy, does she have the most heavenly costume jewelry collection on the planet. Even the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Art Museum agreed with their 2005 show Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection.  She holds the honor of the only living person to ever have a retrospective at the Met and helped curate all of the classic Iris looks from head to toe. In a new film about her life, the Met curator admits that although her show was a last minute fill-in, it took all New York City by storm turning her into international fashion sensation. As she puts it, “an eighty year old starlet”. That 600-piece collection was donated to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.


Iris Apfel my icon of style
New York Times Slide Show of Rara Avis


In 1950 Iris and her Carl husband started Old World Weavers now owned by Stark Carpets.  The couple ran the company until Carl’s retirement in 1992.  Iris was and still is a well-respected textile designer.  Also in demand as an interior decorator, she worked on the Truman, Kennedy and Clinton White Houses.


Iris Apfel my icon of style
Here’s a slide show of Iris’s apartment from Architectural Digest, 2011


Iris prefers bold and beautiful fashion plus costume jewelry instead of the real thing.  Her collection runs the gamut from established vintage fashions jewelry houses to avant-garde one-off artisan designs to flea markets and street vendors.    From the top of her iconic owl rimmed glasses down to her decorated shoes she’s a one-woman fashion whirlwind.

“I don’t happen to like pretty.

Most of the world is not with me,

but I don’t care.”*2

A film about her life, Iris, just debuted by famed documentarian Albert Mayles who along with his late brother David, is known for such films as Grey Gardens and Gimmie Shelter. Madge just saw it on Sunday with some vintage jewelry gal pals. Even more than her style, what comes through the most in this film is the ever stronger love and connection between her and her husband of 67 years, Carl Apfel, who celebrated his 100th birthday during filming. Even more poignant is this is the final film of Mayles who passed away at age 88 last March.

There are so few true icons of original style these days what with the gaggle of Hollywood stylists and a veritable army of Real Housewives tackiness. In a world of the $5,000 it bag (get yours today, only 250,000 available) Iris is such a breath of fresh air.

“I think the worst faux pas in fashion is to look in a mirror and see somebody else—which so many people do.

They think a dress is going to transform them.

They don’t realize it’s themselves and their attitude.

Because that’s what style is: attitude, attitude, attitude.”*3


So ladies learn from your elders, find your own style, become your own Rara Avis and Live La Vida Vintage!



  • MadgesHatbox top vintage blog



*1 from the Iris Apfel Collection – One Kings Lane

*2 from Iris, a documentary by Albert Mayles

*3 from Vanity Fair Hollywood, In Conversation, April 29, 2015

Comment Below


  1. Loved the movie. It is still playing thru 11-2 or later in select theaters. Scroll down to the bottom to check locations:

    It is coming out on DVD as well. Have reserved it when it is at our library, so I can really absorb it. Other folks might be able to ask their library to get a copy and enjoy it this way too.

    Thanks for alerting folks to this great lady and the documentary which makes you wonder why your wardrobe looks so bland compared to hers.

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