Iris Apfel, fashion icon known for her striking style, dies at 102

NEW YORK –

Iris Apfel, textile expert, interior designer and fashion celebrity known for her eccentric style, has died. She was 102 years old.

His death was confirmed by his business agent, Lori Sale, who called Apfel “extraordinary.” No cause of death was given. He also announced on his verified Instagram page on Friday that a day earlier he had celebrated Leap Day as representing his 102nd and a half birthday.

Born on August 29, 1921, Apfel was famous for her irreverent and striking outfits, which mixed haute couture and oversized costume jewelry. A classic Apfel look would combine, for example, a feather boa with strands of thick beads, bracelets and a jacket decorated with Native American beads.

With her large round black-framed glasses, bright red lipstick, and short white hair, she stood out at every fashion show she attended.

Her style was the subject of museum exhibits and a documentary film, “Iris,” directed by Albert Maysles.

“I’m not pretty and I never will be, but it doesn’t matter,” she once said. “I have something much better. I have style.”

Apfel enjoyed late fame on social media, amassing nearly three million followers on Instagram, where his profile declares: “More is more and less is boring.” On TikTok, she attracted 215,000 followers while advancing fashion and style topics and promoting recent collaborations.

“Being stylish and being fashionable are two completely different things,” she said in a TikTok video. “You can easily shop your way to being fashionable. I think style is in your DNA. It implies originality and courage.”

She never retired, telling Today: “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.”

“Working alongside her was the honor of my life. I will miss her daily calls, always greeted with the familiar question: “What do you have for me today?” Sale said in a statement. “Testimony to her insatiable desire to work for her. She was a visionary in every sense of the word. “She saw the world through a unique lens, adorned with giant, distinctive glasses that sat on her nose.”

Apfel was an expert in ancient textiles and weaving. She and her husband Carl owned a textile manufacturing company, Old World Weavers, and specialized in restoration work, including projects at the White House under six different American presidents. Apfel’s famous clients included Estee Lauder and Greta Garbo.

Apfel’s own fame exploded in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City put on a show about her called “Rara Avis,” which is Latin for “rare bird.” The museum described her style as “witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic.

Its originality is typically revealed in its mix of high and low fashion: Dior haute couture with flea market finds, 19th-century ecclesiastical vestments with Dolce & Gabbana lizard pants.” The museum said its “layered combinations” defied “aesthetic conventions” and “even in their most extreme and baroque form” represented “boldly graphic modernity.”

Style Author honoree Iris Apfel attends The Fashion Group International’s Night of the Stars Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on October 27. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, was one of several museums across the country that hosted a traveling version of the exhibit. Apfel later decided to donate hundreds of pieces to Peabody, including couture dresses, to help them build what she called “a fabulous fashion collection.” The Fashion and Lifestyle Museum near Apfel’s winter home in Palm Beach, Florida, also plans a gallery dedicated to displaying items from Apfel’s collection.

Apfel was born in New York City to Samuel and Sadye Barrel. His mother owned a boutique.

Apfel’s fame in her later years included appearances in advertisements for brands such as MAC cosmetics and Kate Spade. She also designed a line of accessories and jewelry for Home Shopping Network, collaborated with H&M on a collection of brightly colored clothing, jewelry and shoes that sold out in minutes, launched a makeup line with Ciaté London, an eyewear collection with Zenni and partnered with Ruggable on floor coverings.

In a 2017 interview with the AP, when he was 95, he said his favorite contemporary designers included Ralph Rucci, Isabel Toledo and Naeem Khan, but added, “I have so much that I’m not going to search.” When asked for fashion advice, she said: “Everyone should find their own path. I’m a big person for individuality. I don’t like trends. If you learn who you are, what you look like and what you can do, handle, you’ll know what do.”

She called herself the “accidental icon,” which became the title of a book she published in 2018 filled with her memories and style reflections. Odes to Apfel are plentiful, from a Barbie in her likeness to T-shirts, glasses, artwork and dolls.

Apfel’s husband predeceased her. They had no children.

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