US designer, ‘geriatric starlet’ Iris Apfel dies at 102

NEW YORK – Iris Apfel, the centenarian style icon from the New York borough of Queens immediately recognisable by her oversized owlish glasses, has died on March 1. She was 102.

The self-described “geriatric starlet”, best known as a textile designer and fashion celebrity, reached peak fame only in her 80s and 90s.

A flamboyant interior designer, she was a fixture on the front rows of Paris fashion shows for more than half a century.

Her cropped white hair, massive glasses, bright lipstick, large-bead necklaces and bangles earned her kooky distinction among New York’s glitterati.

Apfel filled two floors of her Park Avenue apartment with work by the great designers of the 20th century, amassed over her multiple decades of life.

And designers and fashion notables from Alexander Wang to Isaac Mizrahi declared themselves fans of the world’s most chic centenarian, well-known for her love of baubles.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art staged the first major retrospective of her wardrobe in 2005, with Apfel admitting she was as likely to pick up interesting jewellery in a Harlem junk shop as in Tiffany’s.

Helping Apfel’s fame spread beyond the style pages was Albert Maysles’ successful 2014 documentary about her, Iris.

Four years later, her autobiography, Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon, hit bookstore shelves.

Always the entrepreneur, Apfel was known for her collaborations with a variety of brands: a Barbie was made in her image, she had a Home Shopping Network collection and even produced a make-up line with MAC Cosmetics.

The key to enjoying life, she said, was to never stop working. “I haven’t,” she once told guests at a reception in her honour at the American Embassy in Paris.

“Try new things. Don’t let age and numbers frighten you. You have to find your own bliss, be as individual as you can and don’t go with the herd,” she added.

Apfel and her husband Carl Apfel, who lived to 100, co-owned Old World Weavers from 1950 to 1992, restoring and selling textiles including to The White House. They had no children.

Born Iris Barrel on Aug 29, 1921, in Queens, Iris Apfel went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin’s art school and worked as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily.

Never one to shy away from colour or unconventional silhouettes, Apfel urged young women at one gathering to abandon the modern “uniform of black tights or jeans with a sweater, boots and a leather bomber jacket”.

Instead, she told them to “dare to be different. Be yourselves, be individual”.

She quipped: “If you wear something and it doesn’t work, don’t worry, the style police are not going to arrest you.”

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