Flamboyant New York fashion icon Iris Apfel dies aged 102

The colourful trendsetter found fame in her 80s with the ‘more is more, and less is a bore' mantra


Jewish fashion icon Iris Apfel has died at the age of 102 at her home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Announcing her death on Friday Apfel’s agent, Lori Sale, said “working alongside her was the honour of a lifetime”.

In a statement, Sale said:  “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 colour, a canvas of patterns and prints.” 

Titans of the fashion world paid tribute to Apfel as news of her death was released.

US designer Tommy Hilfiger described her as an “innovator and leader” in the world of textiles and style, who “will go down in history.”

In a statement, he said: “Iris Apfel has become a world-famous fashion icon because of her incredible talent not only as an artist, but as an influencer. She has had an amazing effect on so many people with her huge heart and magic touch with everyone she meets.”

Iris was born in 1921 in Queens, New York, and went on to study art history at New York University and later attended art school at the University of Wisconsin.

Her Russian-born grandfather Abraham Asofsky was an honorary officer of the synagogue in the suburb of Astoria, Queens, which where Iris first honed in on her iconic style aesthetic.

In the JC in 2022, she described how at at the age of eight, she shouted at her mother about hair ribbons that didn’t perfectly match her dress.

She later developed a chic if, somewhat masculine, aesthetic, she recalled, wearing a “man’s tailored suit” brown brogues and “an interesting hat”.

Her first job was a copywriter at Women’s Wear Daily. She went on to work for interior designer Elinor Johnson as well illustrator Robert Goodman.

She married her husband Carl Apfel in 1948 and they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they sold it in 1992, with Iris staying on as a consultant.

Old World Weavers carried out restoration and refurbishment for prestige clients including nine White House administrations from Truman to Clinton.

Her mother Sadye (née Asofsky) owned a successful fashion boutique, while her father, Samuel Barrel, ran the family glass and mirror business.

 She began collecting jewellery as “a young girl,” recalling in her memoir, how she “rode the subway” to scour Greenwich Village junk shops for pieces that were the foundation of her now legendary trove.

Her 2018 autobiography, Accidental Icon, tells the story of her career as fashion icon. 

Designer Dries Van Noten, is quoted in her biography saying: "I have rarely met someone as vivid, alive, vital, vivacious, irreverent, joyous and needed as Iris."

He added: "She breathes young air, thinks young thoughts and gathers no dust."

Her Instagram account has more than three million followers and at 91, she became Dazed magazine's oldest cover star.

Her fame and influence continued to grow and she secured a modelling contract with IMG at 97. At 101, she was still landing work and launched her first beauty campaign in a collaboration with Ciaté London.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive