Iris Apfel, Fashion Icon and Subject of Albert Maysles Documentary, Dies at 102

Rexa Vella

Iris Apfel, Fashion Icon and Subject of Albert Maysles Documentary, Dies at 102

Iris Apfel, who became a fashion icon known for her vast, colorful, eclectic wardrobe and was the subject of Albert Maysles‘ 2014 documentary “Iris,” died Friday. She was 102.

Apfel died at her home in Palm Beach, Fla. Her agent, Lori Sale said in a statement, “Iris Apfel was extraordinary. Working alongside her was the honor of a lifetime. I will miss her daily calls, always greeted with the familiar question: ‘What have you got for me today?’ Testament to her insatiable desire to work. She was a visionary in every sense of the word. She saw the world through a unique lens – one adorned with giant, distinctive spectacles that sat atop her nose. Through those lenses, she saw the world as a kaleidoscope of color, a canvas of patterns and prints. Her artistic eye transformed the mundane into the extraordinary and her ability to blend the unconventional with the elegant was nothing short of magical.”

Born in Queens, N.Y., Apfel worked for Women’s Wear Daily and became an interior designer starting in the 1950s, then ran the textile company Old World Weavers with her husband Carl, who died in 2015. She amassed a massive collection of clothing and accessories and in 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of her wardrobe called “Rara Avis: Selections From the Iris Apfel Collection.” It was the museum’s first exhibition dedicated to just one person’s clothing collection.

The exhibition turned her into a celebrity, and she was featured in numerous articles and ad campaigns. The 2007 coffee-table book “Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel” added to her fame. Apfel appeared in numerous ad campaigns and signed a modeling contract with IMG at the age of 97.

Maysles’ documentary opened the New York Film Festival in 2014, then played theatrically in 2015.

“A joyous celebration of creativity and razor-sharp wit sustained into old age, as evinced by outspoken nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel, ‘Iris’ also offers proof of Albert Maysles’ continued vitality as a documentarian,” said Variety‘s review.

“Iris’ creativity lies not in inventing anything new, but in her startling assemblages of found objects. Her illustrious career as an interior designer included consultations with multiple successive inhabitants of the White House (her unspecified ‘problems’ with Jackie Kennedy are allowed to pass in charged silence), while offbeat items stored in a massive Long Island City warehouse reflect a long, varied history of catering to more adventurous upscale clients,” the review continued.


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