Iris Apfel: Fashion cues from the ‘geriatric starlet’

Known for her flamboyance, the New York stylemaker is celebrated in our fashion shoot

At 95, she calls herself "the geriatric starlet" and believes that a woman is as old as she looks. The fearless, free-spirited Iris Apfel, a quintessential US stylemaker from New York, shot into superstar status after Harold Koda mounted an exhibition of her clothes and accessories at the Met's Costume Institute 10 years ago. The show was a rare look at a fashion arbiter rather than a designer and was described as "visionary" by a design consultant for Ralph Lauren. "It will inevitably rub off in the fashion world," was her prescient comment.

And it certainly did. A book about Apfel, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, followed a year later, and a documentary, Iris, was made by Albert Maysles in 2014. Apfel has since been credited with kickstarting media interest in Advanced Style, a documentary movie by Lina Plioplyte and Ari Seth Cohen, and has made an appearance for Mac cosmetics. She is a visiting professor at the University of Texas and last year was named the face of the Australian brand Blue Illusion.

Controlled flamboyance

Known for her unrelenting but controlled flamboyance, her ability to be "either very Baroque or very Zen" in her attire, with her trademark owlish spectacles ("the better to see you with"), she became internationally known after the movie. It was reviewed in this paperThe Irish Times by Tara Brady who found her "sassy and smart" and referred to Apfel's magnetism and gravitas.

A flea market hound, Apfel has worked all her life as an interior designer and founded in the 1950s with her husband a textile and design company whose clients included Greta Garbo and Estee Lauder. She worked on interiors for nine US presidents at the White House: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. However spectacularly Apfel works her own wardrobe, the interiors of her own New York home, as shown in the movie, are overstuffed, overwhelming and over-decorative – no surprise since she detests minimalism.


Visual sense

Her extraordinary visual sense and power to push fashion to extremes has refreshingly nothing to do with trends, the dictates of the runway or celebrity endorsement, but come from a strong personal style attributed to discipline, an unerring eye for colour and texture and a bohemian ability to mix and mismatch disparate elements. For the opening of the show at the Met, for example, she wore a red and green feather evening coat with red suede trousers slashed to the knees, a rose angora twinset from the 1980s with a 19th-century Chinese brocade panel skirt and chunky knee-length jade jewellery. “Don’t attempt this at home,” was Korda’s wry comment.

This shoot takes its cue from Apfel's idiosyncratic style, but tamed for more digestible wear using clothes and accessories from Irish designers and jewellers. "Jewellery," Apfel once said, "is the most transformative of all accessories." The glasses, by the way, were bought by stylist Carmel Daly in Berlin for €45 at Le Kosmos (

Photography: Emily Quinn

Styling: Carmel Ann Daly

Makeup: Ailbhe Lunch using Lancome

Hair: Joe Hayes @ Toni & Guy, Clarendon Street, Dublin 2.

Model: Alanna B