NYC fashion icon Iris Apfel dead at 102

Amber Garrett and Jager Weatherby, New York Daily News on

Published in Entertainment News

NEW YORK — New York City interior designer, businesswoman and fashion icon Iris Apfel died Friday at her home in Palm Beach, Florida. She was 102 years old.

Representatives confirmed her passing but did not announce an official cause of death.

Born Iris Barrel on Aug. 29, 1921, the Astoria, Queens, native would later become known for her irreverent fashion sense, bold eyewear and oversized jewelry.

As a young woman, she studied art history at New York University, after which she worked as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily and later as an interior design assistant.

In 1948, she wed Carl Apfel, to whom she stayed married for 67 years until his death in 2015. Together, the Apfels ran a textile business in Long Island City for more than four decades, specializing in fabric reproductions from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Among their many high-profile clients, the Apfels’ Old World Weavers contracted with the White House for nine presidencies. Apfel’s work as a White House decorator included collaboration on Jacqueline Kennedy’s renovation and restoration of the first family’s official residence.


Before and after the Kennedy administration, the Apfels’ White House work was mostly in replicating historical fabrics, but Mrs. Kennedy wanted a different approach for her renovation.

“She employed a very famous Parisian designer to gussy up the house and make it a real Frenchie, and the design community went bananas,” Apfel reflected in 2015. “After that, we had to throw it all out and start again.”

In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute curated an exhibition about Apfel’s style called Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection. It was the first time the institute put on an exhibition for a living person who wasn’t a fashion designer. The show was so successful, it toured several museums.

Apfel was also the subject of “Iris,” the final documentary by Albert Maysles, who with his brother directed the 1970 Rolling Stones doc “Gimme Shelter” and cult classic “Grey Gardens.”


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