Rare Bird of Fashion: Iris Apfel

Posted 03/08/15 by Sarita Pannekoek

This month see's the release of a documentary about the nonagenarian style icon, Iris Apfel. We look a little into her life, muses and inspirations.


At 94 years old, Iris is more celebrated than ever, known as the colourful, modernist-inspired style icon with giant spectacles. In 2005 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New york exposed Iris Apfel's poetic eye for styling in an exhibition called Rara Avis (Rare bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Since then Iris is on the radar in the fashion world, working for brands as MAC and & Other Stories and inspiring many women to be more bold and brave. 


Her father as interior designer her mother owning a fashion boutique, Iris has a strong background in both interior and fashion design from young age. Together with husband Carl Apfel, Iris launched Old World Weavers, producing antique fabrics as an characteristic accessory. They provided curtains, furniture and drapes for the White house, working for 9 different presidents. She established her name in interior design, her style influenced by her many travels.  

"I travelled extensively, all over the world. Travel opened my eyes to so many things and I wouldn't be myself without it. I love the Middle East and North Africa for its colors, sights and sounds, traveling there is a sensory experience."


"I guess everybody who worked with colour was influenced by our friend. Mr Matisse certainly knows how to carve through colour. "

Over decades, Iris was unconsciously influenced by Henri Matisse, showing in her signature style. She uses her extensive wardrobe to express the feelings captured in her favourite artworks and interprets them into eclectic outfits.


Iris's interpretation of a favourite piece, Matisse's 'The Snail', has the main focus on a 'very, very vintage' Dior Cape, matched with colourful, vibrant bangles. It is an elegant interpretation, yet bold and sleek, showing both the playful, but yet precise elements of the work.


Chosen for its colour, another favourite Matisse is The horse, the rider and the clown. Iris makes a link between the artwork and an old vintage Gianni Versace and she is pleased to see also Versace got influenced by Matisse. "For everyone working with colour is it impossible not to be inspired by Matisse."


"Colour is one of the most important things in the world. I can't live without colour. The world is so dull and grey that we need colour more than ever and have a little fun... Colour can raise the dead!"

The artwork itself is a cutout from a collection called jazz,  an interest both Matisse and Iris have in common, as Iris is a jazz fanatic. 


Behind her personality as fashion icon there is a vision of Individuality. Iris states she is disappointed in the current loss of individuality in style, that everything is homogenised these days. People are missing out on the creative experience. Though she admits that individuality and creativity is in your DNA and being an individual takes effort, it is about self-expression and attitude.


"The anonymity of it-it's all too similar. I think people should express themselves more and not just buy what's in. While it can be very beautiful and it may suit you perfectly, I'm sure it doesn't suit everyone in the same way. I like people who express themselves and are more individualistic."

Iris is an inspiration for individuality, she is driven to be unique and her passion of making the impossible outfit come together. For instance, Iris was one of the first woman to wear a pair of jeans. In university she decided she wanted a pair, as she already had an outfit in mind. Back then, jeans were only sold to big husky men, but after weeks of chasing a jeans store, the owner eventually gave her a pair of boy's jeans.  Ever since, she is a denim lover and shows this time after time. Denim could be seen as a counter-effect on the bright and bold jewellery she wears. But adding in extravagant details, such as Micky Mouse embroidery, makes the denim outfit unique and come to life.


Iris Apfel on getting dressed: "I like to do this, as if I am playing jazz"

As an art-school undergrad, Iris developed a fascination for jazz music. In her curiosity and by the lack of reading material about her favorite jazz artists, she decided to write her own paper. One of her favorites was Duke Ellington. As a young teen she traveled to his show in Chicago and managed to have him read her paper. "I don't remember what I wrote, but it was very wonderful." 

Jazz has great similarities with the poetic-eye Iris creates outfits. Improvisation is key in jazz and according to Iris the main ingredient for composing the right outfit. And as Iris draws elements from all different cultures and periods, jazz is the same.

"Everything is interrelated: economics and science and fashion are all a part of the same. If you look at a dress, it's affected by all of those things. You can almost tell what was going on during that period."


Iris Apfel's art of style is shaped through many inspirations and it much represents her personality and vision. Her ultimate inspiration for style: "Listen to your inner muse and take a chance." 

IRIS is in cinema from Friday 31 July. See www.irismovie.co.uk. for more information. 

Tagged:Fashion, Individuality, Art and colour, Iris Apfel, Matisse

  • Read another post
Comments powered by Disqus