Iris Apfel’s New York apart­ment ex­udes the same idio­syn­cratic air as her quirky and dy­namic sense of fash­ion


Step in­side the colour­ful New York apart­ment of fash­ion doyenne Iris Apfel

At 97 years of age, Iris Apfel has be­come one of the most loved and ad­mired fash­ion and in­te­ri­ors icons of the past cen­tury. Well known for her !am­boy­ant out"ts, over­sized glasses and colour­ful bold jew­ellery, she is also the only nona­ge­nar­ian within the fash­ion in­dus­try, de­fy­ing all pre­con­cep­tions about age. An ac­claimed in­te­rior de­signer and busi­ness­woman, Iris rose out of re­tire­ment to new-found fame in 2005 when an ex­hi­bi­tion was cu­rated by The Metropoli­tan Museum of Art, show­cas­ing a col­lec­tion of her out"ts and ac­ces­sories. The show, en­ti­tled ‘ Rara Avis’ (rare bird) and an overnight suc­cess, launched Iris on to the in­ter­na­tional stage as, in her words, a ‘geri­atric star­let’.

Iris mar­ried the love of her life, Carl Apfel, in 1948 and the cou­ple were to­gether for 68 years. Their Park Av­enue apart­ment, home for the last four decades, is won­der­fully max­i­mal. The style could be de­scribed as mi­cro

Palace of Ver­sailles meets eclec­tic hoarder and the house is ! lled with slowly cu­rated col­lec­tions – think sump­tu­ous vel­vet- cov­ered English arm­chairs with chi­nois­erie painted backs, carved French draw­ers and Ge­noese chests mixed with 18th and 19th- cen­tury ca­nine por­traits and sin­gerie (art that depicts an­thro­po­mor­phised mon­keys). ‘I have al­ways been a max­i­mal­ist but over time my style has be­come more highly de­vel­oped – al­ways a re"ec­tion of who I am,’ says Iris. ‘At home, I don’t live in a static at­mos­phere and am con­stantly re­ar­rang­ing fur­ni­ture and play­ing with things, to see how they look with this or that. So much decor to­day, al­though beau­ti­ful, looks like an ex­ceed­ingly ex­pen­sive suite in a ho­tel, but with­out any soul. Many peo­ple look like they don’t be­long in the back­ground they are put into.’

Along with an­tique shawls, the apart­ment is ! lled with archival fab­rics by Old World Weavers, the in­ter­na­tional fab­ric man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany that the Apfels ran from 1950-1992. ‘ Pieces have been col­lected over many years of in­ter­na­tional travel and buy­ing, ! rstly for my in­te­rior de­sign busi­ness and later with Old World Weavers,’ she says. The com­pany spe­cialised in the re­pro­duc­tion of 17th, 18th and 19th­cen­tury fab­rics and earned Iris the nick­name ‘ First Lady of Fab­rics’. To­gether with Carl, she com­pleted the re­design of The White House for nine ad­min­is­tra­tions and worked for many high-pro! le clients, in­clud­ing Greta Garbo and Estée Lauder.

As with Iris’s choice of fash­ion, her modus operandi with in­te­ri­ors is a mix of cou­ture meets junk shop ! nds. ‘ I have beau­ti­ful French, English and Ital­ian an­tiques but I love hunt­ing out unique pieces in junk­yards, "ea mar­kets and souks. Things don’t al­ways have to be beau­ti­ful but they al­ways have a pow­er­ful as­so­ci­a­tion with my life,’ she says. ‘ For me, home is all part of your cre­ative ex­pres­sion

and aes­thetic. Un­less you are mim­ick­ing some­body you will ! nd your nat­u­ral style. I de! nitely dress and decorate with the same spirit.’

Born in As­to­ria, New York, Iris is an only child. ‘ My fam­ily were a big in "uence on me. My fa­ther had a home­ware im­port busi­ness and was al­ways bring­ing home in­ter­est­ing pieces; my mother owned a fash­ion bou­tique and loved dress­ing me up. As a child, I trav­elled in­ter­na­tion­ally with my par­ents. I al­ways felt like I was a sponge: ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing, hold­ing on to what I liked and ge#ing rid of the ex­cess some­where else.’ She be­came ob­sessed with the hunt for un­usual ! nds and as a child would play hooky on a Thurs­day to scour the junk shops of Manha#an. ‘I could travel as far as I wanted on the sub­way for a nickel and loved to for­age around. I don’t get any kick out of go­ing to a beau­ti­ful shop where ev­ery­thing is pre­s­e­lected.’

Iris’s in­nate and in­fec­tious verve for all things orig­i­nal, un­ex­pected and real epit­o­mises the virtues of a life less or­di­nary. ‘ I haven’t changed since all this fame came my way. Be­com­ing a global style icon a $er the Met show felt to­tally ridicu­lous and sur­real – I still don’t believe it!’

Iris’s new book, Iris Apfel, Ac­ci­den­tal Icon (£25, Harper De­sign) is out now.

FROM TOP The bleached-oak bois­erie and screen in the liv­ing room are 18th-cen­tury French finds. The 17th­cen­tury Si­cil­ian chair to the left is cov­ered in an Old World Weavers ta­pes­try de­sign; an Ital­ian tole chan­de­lier hangs above a Mai­son Jansen ta­ble; Iris in her guest room, which is home to her col­lec­tion of cou­ture fash­ion and junk shop finds.

The Owner Iris Apfel, the Amer­i­can fash­ion, tex­tiles and in­te­ri­ors star, lives here. The Prop­erty A three-bed­room Park Av­enue apart­ment in Man­hat­tan, New York. Iris moved here in 1978 with her late hus­band Carl. She also has a home in Palm Beach, Florida.

FROM TOP In the deca­dent li­brary, a Dutch painting is dis­played above a Louis XVI daybed; the hall­way is full of 19th-cen­tury English book­cases. A se­ries of 18th and 19th-cen­tury paint­ings of dogs line the walls.

CLOCKWISEFROM TOP The Louis XVI-style chairs in the hall are up­hol­stered in a cut vel­vet from Old World Weavers. They sit along­side an early 18th-cen­tury painted Ge­noese cor­ner cab­i­net and a French screen of the same era; an an­tique French moun­tain dog holds a plat­ter con­tain­ing a col­lec­tion of Iris’s Bake­lite jew­ellery; the In­fanta Mar­garita was the first painting Iris ever bought.

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