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A Fashionable History: Iris Apfel

February 21, 2011

Designers will always be the stars of Fashion Week, but what about the people who wear the clothes? Iris Apfel, the self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet,” is one of my favorite style icons. The 89 year old’s signature kooky style has been name-checked as the inspiration for numerous designer’s collections, landed her on the pages of Vogue and Paper, and earned her an exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute. She reminds us all that fashion is, at its core, about self-expression. Her flamboyant, often eccentric style is marked by mixing high-end and low-end, and an unexpected juxtaposition of materials, colors, and styles.

Apfel got her start by working at a copywriter at WWD, but she left after a few months when she couldn’t envision a future there. She eventually landed in the interior design world and, in 1950, started what would become one of the most respected textile firms in the industry, Old World Weavers, with her new husband. They became most well-known for fabric restoration and replication, and even consulted on projects in the White House over the course of nine presidencies. The team retired in 1992, but her personal style had cemented her as a cult icon in the fashion community, and she continued to consult and lecture on her own. She catapulted into the spotlight in 2005 with the exhibition at the Costume Institute, and she’s been a mainstay in the industry ever since.

Apfel is an inspiration to not be afraid to take risks with your style, and to remember that it’s fun to play dress up. Just try and not smile as you look at photos of her:

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