Style Icon: Iris Apfel

By ModCloth Writer: Annie Morrison

Iris Apfel wears many hats. Quite literally, as an undisputed fashion icon known for a perfectly panache presentation, Apfel’s closet undoubtedly features feathered fascinators, bejeweled berets, and chic cloche hats. Figuratively, her impressive curriculum vitae includes Vogue Prix de Paris girl, textile firm owner, and eponymous subject of a nationally renowned exhibit, to name a few. At 88 years old, the fabulous fashion diva is still doing what she does best: demonstrating her immaculate taste by radically assembling opulent outfits of dissimilar influences.

Keep reading to learn more about one woman’s iconic closet!

American original Iris Barrel Apfel is a vivacious style icon, known for a truly innovative approach to fashion. Many would describe Apfel as a chic contrast – her personal style is both high- and low-end, which cultivates an air of carefree elegance, fueled by her love of splendid, well-made clothing with a bit of flair. Apfel is widely known as an influential pioneer in the world of fashion, without much concern for current trends and styles. However, despite her lack of regard for modern style, Apfel’s lavishly layered wardrobe combinations of prints, textures, colors, patterns, and silhouettes has rendered her as cutting-edge and modern as they come.

“I think dressing up or down should be a creative experience. Exciting. Fun. Whenever possible, it’s really great to start with a marvelously cut designer piece and build on it,” said Apfel.

Apfel’s wardrobe is replete with animal prints, precious jewelry, vibrant jumpsuits, couture gowns constructed of the finest fabrics, and of course, plenty of oversized circular eyeglasses.

“For me the key to personal style lies in accessories… I have amassed an enormous “collection” of bags, belts, bangles and beads without which I would be lost. One can change the entire look of an outfit by substituting one accessory for another. I love objects from different worlds, different eras, combined my way. Never uptight, achieving — hopefully — a kind of throwaway chic.”

As she so eloquently desired, Apfel’s style could be the definition of throwaway chic. Her knack for combining seemingly disparate items into a sophisticated ensemble is unmatched by any other icon in the world of fashion. In the early 1950s, Apfel and her husband, Carl, founded Old World Weavers, an international textile manufacturing company which specialized in weaving exact reproductions of antique-period fabrics.

Apfel said, “We spent almost three months every year traveling the world to find offbeat classic-period textile designs and to locate specific mills with specialized techniques to properly replicate them.”

Her adventures in and eclectic finds from worldly workshops, bazaars, thrift stores, haute couture houses, runway shows, and flea markets have provided her with a diverse collection of ensemble embellishments. Her traveling shopper aesthetic also serves as an inspiration for ambitious, thrift-store-frequenting, vintage-loving traveling fashionistas everywhere!

How many fashion personalities can say that their personal collection of accumulated jewelry, clothing, and accessories is worthy of a solo exposition? The exhibit dedicated to Apfel’s exquisitely eccentric style showed at the Met, the Norton Museum in Palm Beach, and the Nassau County Museum of Art, among many others. Entitled “Iris Apfel: Rare Bird of Style,” the exhibition showcases over 80 of Apfel’s most dramatic ensembles, including a haute couture Lanvin gown, a meticulous Norman Norell evening coat, and several peacock brooches which Apfel commissioned in the early 1960s from vintage glass jewelry masters, and frequent Chanel collaborators, Maison Gripoix. Needless to say, the exhibit is absolutely stunning and, as a result, downright awe-inspiring. Although it is impossible to truly capture the creative, seemingly unstoppable spirit of such a dynamic tastemaker, “Rare Bird of Fashion” does its best to epitomize the somewhat intangible magnetism which has made Apfel a style superstar. Her iconic style is evidenced in the ensembles which seamlessly juxtapose the high and low – haute couture with costume jewelry, designer gowns with flea market finds, crafty accessories with zebra-print everything. Get inspired – check out Apfel’s style, characterized by a mix of fantasy, pulchritudinous prints, color, color, color, pattern, whimsy, and humor. “Iris Apfel: Rare Bird of Fashion” can be seen at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts through February 7, 2010.


About Annie

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  1. Avatar
    jill 11/10/2009 at 2:09 pm #

    Dude! Do you guys have spies in my town? First you featured the art made out of recycled materials, and now you’ve got Iris Apfel — both on display at the Peabody Essex Museum here in Salem, MA.

  2. Avatar
    aire 11/10/2009 at 6:17 pm #

    Her turquoise choker necklace in the first picture is amazing!!!

  3. Avatar
    Kirstin 11/12/2009 at 5:57 pm #

    I absolutely applaud this woman!!! I would long for her outgoing beauty at her age! Kudos!!!

  4. Avatar
    HollyG 11/13/2009 at 5:46 pm #

    I’ve blogged about Iris a few times. I find her eccentric spirit to be so inspirational! I only wish that I could see this exhibit.

  5. Avatar
    Jennie 09/04/2010 at 2:55 pm #

    She is brilliant! I love that she still exhibits such strong fashion. As Holly said, very inspirational.
    Is it wrong that I love those ridiculous round glasses on her?

  6. Avatar
    SaraC 05/27/2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I found out about Iris from my favorite jewler, Alexis Bittar. He & Iris are tight. Love his stuff. Love her.

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