The world according to Iris

Self-described “geriatric starlet” and “world’s oldest living teenager,” Iris Apfel has been on a non-stop media blitz since her Rare Bird of Fashion exhibition made its splash here in 2009. If you hadn’t heard of her before the exhibition, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard of her now. Rare Bird of Fashion — which featured over 80 ensembles from the legendary style icon’s personal collection — was a spirited romp, an immersive delight and a tremendous popular success.


What the buzz was all about…Rare Bird of Fashion at PEM. Photo by PEM / Walter Silver.

Many staffers here remember Iris’ hands-on involvement in the installation of Rare Bird of Fashion. Her exacting eye, her inexhaustible energy, her relentless drive for perfection. It was not unusual to see Iris in full regalia — including statement sized rings worn over purple museum gloves — hustling the installation team about with a flick of her cane.

Iris Apfel installs her ensembles at PEM. Photo by PEM / Walter Silver.

Iris helps carefully install her ensembles. Photo by PEM / Walter Silver.

This energy, uncompromising vision and distinctly strong personality have served her well as she’s become an international media darling and ‘Iris Fever’ has spread across the globe. (Editor’s note: there is no cure for Iris Fever)

Perhaps you’ve seen Iris as the poster child for MAC cosmetics:


Wearing Rei Kawakubo’s 2D Comme des Garçons collection on the cover of Dazed & Confused magazine:


Or gracing the pages of The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, and Lucky Magazine:


The article that really stopped me in my tracks, however, was Architectural Digest‘s photo essay on the Apfel’s NYC apartment:


Through the run of Rare Bird of Fashion, my husband Chip (PEM’s media production manager) and I would often find ourselves welcomed into the Apfel’s home to facilitate one museum project or another. Iris and her husband Carl were generous hosts and supremely tolerant as we repeatedly transformed their living room into command central for various filming projects and live video feeds. Chip and I would ascend from the bustling streets of midtown with heavy cartloads of video equipment into what might as well have been another world — the Apfel’s exquisitely decorated, eclectic and utterly refined pre-war apartment. We became pros at carefully winding power cables through the delicate legs of Louis XVI furniture, finding well-hidden electrical outlets along the intricately carved paneled walls, adjusting studio lights to create the perfect mix of shadow and light across a bouquet of pillows from the Apfel’s textile company Old World Weavers.


Chip at Iris and Carl’s. Photo by Whitney Van Dyke

Our film shoots at the Apfel’s were often full day affairs during which we got to know the couple rather well and form burnished little memories of our time with them.  Iris in the dining room perched in her Black Watch plaid robe, nibbling her favorite raisin-walnut scones and asking after all the latest museum buzz. Her delight at being introduced to the illustration work of Maira Kalman and her thorough enjoyment of having Tavi Gevinson’s snappy online mag read aloud to her. Walking Iris — bundled in her exotic floor-length fur coat — to her hair appointment a few blocks away. Chip lending a steady arm as we slowly carved our way through the city streets while knowing pedestrians parted the seas for the esteemed doyenne. We were there when Carl was sick and feeling rather lowly until Iris came in and lit up the room as only she can. With loving words, sniping humor and an affectionate foot rub, Carl was as revived as a parched plant getting watered, as content as a cat lolling in a patch of sunlight.

Why this (admittedly nostalgic) post today? Well, it just so happens to be Iris’ 92nd birthday today. So, make her proud: pull out your finery, channel your inner Iris and seize the day!

PS: Still can’t shake Iris Fever? Fear not, a documentary by the masterful Albert Maysles is in the works. Check out the utterly charming trailer below:
Iris – Official Trailer


One Comment

  1. My fashion artist idol…there is no other. Bravo Iris

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