Fashion Icon Iris Apfel Remembered by Alyssa Milano, Donna Karan, Maria Shriver: ‘She Truly Did it All’

The self-described “geriatric starlet” was 102 years old

Noam Galai/Getty Images for Central Park Tower

Fashion icon and social media superstar Iris Apfel died on Friday. The interior designer to presidents and beyond was 102 years old. Apfel’s death has been mourned by celebrities, designers, photographers and people who just enjoyed her life and legacy.

Maria Shriver posted on Instagram, “What a truly remarkable life Iris Apfel lived. She truly did it all: she was a businesswoman, she was a fashion model, she was a fashion icon, she was a college professor, she was a star of a documentary, she was a Barbie doll!”

“Iris is truly proof that age is just a number, and that we only have one life, so we all need to get living. She passed away today at 102, and in fact she still had unfinished business — a book about her life and the important moments called ‘Colorful’ coming out in August. Colorful, indeed! Thank you for the inspiration, Iris!” Shriver added.

Apfel, a self-described “geriatric starlet,” was well-known for her singular cropped white hair, oversized and often colorful glasses and always bold lipstick. In recent years, she charmed and delighted millions on Instagram, but her career began decades earlier as a copywriter at Women’s Wear Daily while also working as an interior designer.

Apfel was born on Aug. 29, 1921 in Queens, New York. She married her husband Carl Apfel in 1948 and two years later the pair founded the textile firm Old World Weavers, which specialized in reproducing textiles from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. She continued her work in interior design and over the years took on restoration projects for nine presidents: Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

She and her husband retired from the textile industry in 1992, but Apfel herself never stopped moving. The pair traveled frequently, and in 2011 Apfel served as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She was featured in the documentary “Iris” in 2014, as referenced in Shriver’s remembrance of her. In 2016, she partnered with WiseWear to create a line of smart jewelry, and in 2018 she released her biography.

At the same time, Apfel was building her own reputation as a fashion icon on social media. At the time of her death, her Instagram account boasted well over 1 million followers; in the hours that followed, the number bloomed to at least 3 million. In 2019, she signed a modeling contract with IMG at the age of 97.

Apfel told Women’s Wear Daily, “I’m very excited. I never had a proper agent. I’m a do-it-yourself girl. I never expected my life would take this turn so I never prepared for it. It all just happened so suddenly, and I thought at my tender age, I’m not going to set up offices and get involved with all kinds of things.”

“I thought it was a flash in the pan, and it’s not going to last. Somehow, people found me. People would just call. Tommy Hilfiger said that was no way to do it, and he put us together. I’m very excited and very grateful,” she added.

Apfel’s impact on the world around her extended throughout social media and beyond. As news of her death spread, friends and colleagues memorialized her on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter).

DKNY founder Donna Karan wrote a lengthy tribute on Instagram. She shared, “@iris.apfel had a passion for fashion like no other person. If I’d have to name who the best dressed woman in the world is, it would be Iris. From head to toe with color, jewelry, and the most beautiful little details, no one understood style like she did. She inspired me to do color and more color instead of my usual black and white!”

“The love that surrounded her will be with her forever and ever. I’m so grateful to have known Iris and her wisdom that she shared with us. This isn’t a goodbye, it is a see you later. You’ll always be in my heart Iris with beautiful memories and I can’t thank you enough for that.”

Alyssa Milano, who worked with Apfel on “Project Runway All Stars,” also remembered her on the platform. She wrote, “Rest in Peace, Iris. I had the honor of working with Iris Apfel when I hosted Project Runway All Stars. She did her own alterations the night before on an archival piece of @imisaacmizrahi from the 90s that he had gifted her back then. She also did her own hair and make up for this episode. What a legend.”

Writer Derek Guy, aka “the menswear guy” on X, shared a favorite Apfel quote: “If you’re happy, have found love, are surrounded by good people, doing what you like, and giving back to others, that’s success. Selling your soul for a buck is not worth the real price you pay.”

Photographer Roderick Aichinger, who worked with Apfel several times, wrote on Instagram, “I photographed her in 2015 for @annabelle_mag. During the course of a few hours I photographed her in different outfits. It took her up to an hour to change and journalist @yvonne.eisenring and I would worry about her – not hearing a sound emerge from her bedroom/closet.”

“Asked what age she would want to be again, she answered eighty-something was really good (?!)”

Filmmaker Austin Stark wrote on the platform, “The world no doubt lost an icon. To me @iris.apfel was family. What I loved most about Iris is that she truly didn’t give a f–k about what other people thought. She taught us all to be bold, unique, fearless. Let’s keep her in our thoughts and our hearts and not lose sight of that. RIP.”

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