AN ICON OF STYLE
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.