Iris Apfel: The 96-year-old Style Icon That We Just Can’t Get Enough Of

by Elysian Magazine

Elysian gets prepared for the Apfel-Mallis summit in Manhattan on May 2

You might not know Iris Apfel by name, but surely, you recall seeing the fashionable and bespeckled 96-year-old somewhere. Perhaps you caught the ads for her collaboration with Macy’s? Or maybe you shopped her jewelry collection on HSN?  She starred in the 2015 documentary “Iris”  and was featured in last year’s “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” on HBO. She also shot a commercial for Citroen’s DS3 car and was named style ambassador for the Australian denim brand, Blue Illusion. There is even an Iris Apfel Barbie doll coming out this fall. And all of this happened long after Mrs. Apfel retired from the textile company that she founded with her late husband, Carl.

It’s not hard to understand why the world of art and commerce can’t get enough of Iris. She transformed the necessary act of getting dressed in the morning into an adroit craft, and became an icon of personal style long before Instagram made “influencer” a job description. She so charmed New York’s fashion cognoscenti with her innovative attire at industry events and parties, that her wardrobe was the subject of an exhibit which started at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and subsequently made its way around the country.

That’s why we were especially excited to see what Iris would wear this week when she sat down with our friend Fern Mallis, the fashion industry titan who founded New York Fashion Week, and now holds court at Manhattan’s 92Y with her interview series Fashion Icons. Our aspirations were thwarted – or rather postponed – by an intemperate March snowstorm that shut down Manhattan on the night of the Apfel-Mallis summit. Fortunately, the event has been rescheduled for May 2, but for those who are unable to attend (or if you just want to arrive prepared), we thought it prudent to share with you some of our favorite Apfel-inspired items.

Born in Queens, and a resident of Manhattan since time immemorial, Iris Apfel has always loved to shop at the 57th Street fashion shrine, Bergdorf Goodman. This year, the ne plus ultra of luxury department stores asked Iris to shop for us. She curated a collection of her favorite finds which includes clothing and accessories in vibrant hues constructed with innovative materials such as:

A collar of multi-colored rooster feathers by Dransfield & Ross


the “Michezo” dark horn bangle studded in turquoise by Ashley Pittman


the Raffia Cahier Crossbody Bag from Prada


Fur Coat from Alice + Olivia, striped in black fox fur and white lamb shearling


and the Floral-embroidered jacket in wool and mohair by Gucci


One of the secrets of Iris Apfel’s longevity is comfortable footwear. Indeed, she has never been one to teeter-totter around in stilettos. But just because a shoe feels good to the sole doesn’t mean it can’t be pleasing to the eye. The Pralina slide from Manolo Blahnik is lined in leather for comfort and adorned with a crystal buckle for a touch of sparkle.

Manolo Blahnik Pralina Satin Slide Sandals

A necklace must always make a statement, and Iris Apfel never shies away from speaking her mind. Something tells us that this Devon Leigh turquoise and gold masterpiece would resonate wildly with her aesthetic.

Devon Leigh Turquoise Ball Cluster Pendant

From Iris Apfel’s “Rara Avis” collection for HSN, this oversized scarf in lightweight chiffon with navy fringe can be cowled around the neck to dress up a denim ensemble or draped over the shoulders to add interest to a simple shift dress. You can even wear it poolside as a sarong, in which case, we would advise pairing it with Apfel’s oversized octagonal sunnies.

Owl print chiffon shawl ($79.90,
Octagonal Sunglasses ($79.90,

Iris Apfel’s early years included jet-setting around the world with her beloved husband, Carl, curating fabrics for their textile and design firm, Old World Weavers. But she really started having fun at age 90 when her modeling career took off and she became an international style icon. Iris reveals the secrets of her success and longevity in the new memoir “Accidental Icon: Musings of a Geriatric Starlet.


Bright red lipstick is as integral to Iris Apfel’s look as her round glasses and statement jewelry. We love the light feel and supercharged staying power of Christian Louboutin’s velvet matte lipcolour, and the pointy gold case inspired by Babylonian architecture is a true objet d’art.


The Iris Apfel show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute made its way to museums around the country, and this acclaimed book by Eric Bowman seized upon the popularity of the exhibit, serving as a souvenir for those who attended and a portable surrogate for those who could not.


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