By Dorian Martin
I Start Wondering Founder
If you want a picture of true life-long learning, you needn’t look any further than Iris Apfel. The well-seasoned dynamo continues to take the fashion world by storm, most recently getting featured in Iris the Coloring Book. She also signed a modeling contract and released a new collection of glassware through Neiman Marcus.
The fashion titan was also the subject of the documentary, Iris, which gives a sneak peek into her life and how she cultivates her unique style. Look for it on streaming services. She is regularly being sought by media outlets for her advice and comments on fashion, interior design, and how to live a creative life.
Exploring Varied Interests
Iris earned her fame through expertise gained over decades. Iris and her late husband, Carl Apfel, started Old World Weavers in 1950 and then ran it until their retirement in 2002. As part of her work, Iris was involved in several design restoration projects, including working with the White House during nine presidencies, from Truman through Clinton. Her own home was featured in Architectural Digest.
During their business travels, Iris developed an affinity for non-Western, artisan clothes. The world started really noticing her quirky style – including her trademark large round glasses -- when she was in her 80s which led to a featured ad campaign for Kate Spade and jewelry designer Alexis Bittar. Iris also creates and sells her own line of jewelry, shoes, and handbags on the Home Shopping Network and is featured in a book about her clothes. Her renowned eye for fashion led to a 2015 exhibition called “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Helping Others to Learn
Iris is always trying new things and exploring new areas at an age when many people settle permanently into their lounge chairs. In 2012 at the age of 90, she accepted an appointment as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The proceeds of her new coloring book benefit the “UT in NYC” excursions, which bring students in the Textiles and Apparel Program to New York City to meet and learn from leading designers through Iris’s connections in the world of fashion and design. The students leave the course with a better understanding of what it takes to work in New York City’s high-powered fashion and design scene.
While graciously helping a new generation find their way while also exploring her own creativity, Iris remains selective about what she learns. “Technologically, I live in the 17th century,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “I have a very simple cell phone, one that folds, you know?”
Iris offers an example of how to be an entrepreneur in later years. She is always searching out the new, finding ways to mix a variety of styles. She’s not bound by cultures, instead exploring a wide range of looks. And she’s always pushing the boundaries, whether it’s her Facebook and Instagram accounts, her HSN collection, or her signature round eyeglasses.
As we enter our later years, let’s all consider adopting Iris’s zest for life, sense of wonder, and continued emphasis on trying new things. We may not end up becoming a style icon like Iris, but following our curiosity and saying “yes” to opportunities can help us transform into and embrace our own Rara Avis.
Bazilian, E. (2015). Why Older Women Are the New It-Girls of Fashion. AdWeek.com.
Freehill, L. (2012). Rare Bird of Fashion – and Academia. University of Texas Exes Alcalde.
Harper’s Bazaar. (2015). Ask Iris Apfel Anything.
Hodge, S. (2020). 99-Year-Old Style Icon in New UT Coloring Book—Iris Apfel Gets a Spotlight Texas Moment. Paper City.
Lippe-McGraw, J. (2019). Iris Apfel Reveals Why It’s Okay to Make Mistakes When Decorating. Architectural Digest.