Mar 04, 2024

Vale iconic creative, “geriatric starlet”, Iris Apfel, dead at 102

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Born August 29, 1921, Mrs Apfel was born in New York to a mother who owned a boutique – exposing the would-be textile and antique fabrics whizz to fashion and couture at an early age. [Source: Instagram - James Mollison]

Self-described “geriatric starlet”, fashion and interior design superstar, Iris Apfel, has died at the age of 102.

Known for her outlandish style with signature oversized black glasses and accessories, Mrs Apfel was said to have died at her home in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a spokesman for her estate

The news of the icon’s death was posted on her personal Instagram on Friday, March 1 to her nearly 3 million followers. 

Rising to fame and status later in life for her intricate and eclectic style, Mrs Apfel gained success in her 80s and 90s, destroying ageist stereotypes that wrongfully tie age and ability together. 

Much like celebrity chef Rick Stein, Mrs Apfel never retired and never had any plans to. She said: “I think retiring at any age is a fate worse than death. Just because a number comes up doesn’t mean you have to stop.”

After studying art at university, the future designer became a copywriter for the fashion trade journal Women’s Wear Daily.

Mrs Apfel then went on to establish textiles manufacturing company Old World Weavers with her husband Carl in the 50s, specialising in restoration work. Some of their A-list clients included Estée Lauder, Greta Garbo and nine different US presidents.

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Iris and husband Carl who died in 2015 at the age of 100. [Source: Instagram]

Mrs Apfel’s unique style of low and high-end fashion threw her into the spotlight in 2005 when she appeared in advertisements for makeup brand MAC Cosmetics and fashion label Kate Spade. These flirts with the limelight attracted the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City which hosted an exhibition about her called “Rara Avis” before it was borrowed by several other museums across the US. 

Since then, Mrs Apfel has had a documentary made about her life, released her memoir; designed fashion, accessory and make up collections for well-known brands; became the oldest person to have a Barbie doll designed after her and signed a modelling contract with a global modelling agency, sharing representation with supermodels Gigi Hadid and Kate Moss at 97 years old.

Most recently, Mrs Apfel collaborated with Melbourne accessories label Erstwilder in an Australian-first for a special capsule collection featuring adorable dog and cat brooches.

Curating a strong social media presence, Mrs Apfel was popular on TikTok and often shared her thoughts on all things fashion, interior design and expression. 

“Being stylish and being fashionable are two entirely different things,” she said in one TikTok video

Last month, Anna Murphy wrote in The Times: “Apfel once lamented to me what she called ‘this disgusting sameness. People… all seem to want to look the same.’ Clothes for her are ‘an exercise in creativity.’ I like to think that is what growing older can be too.”

Mrs Apfel’s cause of death remains unknown. She had no next of kin.

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