Unapologetic Republican Fashion Icon Iris Apfel Dies at 102

“You’ve got to try it. You’ve only got one trip; you have to remember that,” said Iris Apfel, the beloved fashion icon and role model who seemed to defy all age limitations until her death at 102 at her Palm Beach home on March 1, 2024.

Suppose you don’t know Apfel by name. In that case, you’d know her by sight because of her huge, black, round signature glasses that were part of her over-the-top, colorful, and one-of-a-kind look that was so memorable and unique that after a lifetime as a successful textile designer, she caught the eye of savvy fashionistas who made the self-proclaimed “accidental icon” an Instagram famous model when she was in her nineties. Apfel lived a full life and is a role model who showed us all that women could do anything and defy the odds. Museum exhibits have been devoted to her look, and she was the subject of a documentary film called “Iris,” directed by Albert Maysles.

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Iris Apfel was a textile expert, interior designer, and fashion celebrity known for her bohemian style of bright clothing and the gigantic, fabulous ethnic jewelry she collected throughout her life. She was married to her beloved husband, Carl, whom she worked with for over sixty years. He passed away in 2015 at one hundred years old. 

According to Time Magazine,

She never retired, telling “Today”: “I think retiring at any age is a fate worse than death. Just because a number comes up doesn’t mean you have to stop.”

She and her husband, Carl, owned a textile manufacturing company, Old World Weavers, and specialized in restoration work, including projects at the White House under six different U.S. presidents. Apfel’s celebrity clients included Estee Lauder and Greta Garbo.

Apfel’s fame blew up in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City hosted a show about her called “Rara Avis,” Latin for “rare bird.” The museum described her style as “both witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic.”

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Apfel’s later years were exciting. She seemed to become more popular and interesting as time went on. She could be seen at many events in Palm Beach County. At Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, a Christmas tree with gigantic Apfel glasses was fully displayed. In perhaps the most fun tribute, Barbie made an Iris Apfel Barbie, complete with her signature short silver hair, iconic glasses, red lipstick, and fabulous accessories. 

I met Apfel a few times over the years. When my husband got elected in what was Apfel’s district, I mentioned this to her when I saw her at an event. When I asked if I could take a picture with her, she said, “Wait. Is your husband a Republican?” When I said yes, she said, “OK then. Let’s do this.” 

Tracy Caruso and Iris Apfel
Tracy Caruso and Iris Apfel

Apfel will never be forgotten, and her one-of-a-kind look will undoubtedly inspire future generations to forge their paths and be unapologetically themselves. 

Other stories you may want to read:

Tracy Caruso Can Bearly Believe Anyone Voted Against Killing a Bear in Self-Defense

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