Group 2 Created with Sketch.


Group 2 Created with Sketch.
2024-03-07 00:00:00 Avenue Magazine Remembering Iris Apfel, From the Eyes of a Close Friend

Remembering Iris Apfel, From the Eyes of a Close Friend

Iris Apfel at the “Iris in Paris” exhibit and pop-up shop at Le Bon Marché in 2016
Photo by Joe Schildhorn/BFA

Social media has been flooded with images of style icon Iris Apfel, who died earlier this month in Palm Beach at the astounding age of 102. Over the years, many a New Yorker had leaned towards the affable star, with her saucer shaped specs, for a photo opp. But most of these fans didn’t really know Apfel, who was so much more than her flamboyant fashion sense.

Born Iris Barrel in Astoria, Queens, Apfel was an accomplished interior designer who had a contract at the White House that spanned nine presidents, from Truman to Clinton. In 1950, she launched her textile business, Old World Weavers, with her husband Carl (who died at age 100 in 2015). The Apfels ran their company, which specialized in the reproduction of fabrics from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries until 1992 when they sold it to Stark Carpet. Avenue spoke with Andrea Stark to find out more about the woman behind the iconic oversized glasses.

Apfel with Andrea and Ashley Stark
Photo courtesy of Andrea Stark

You knew Iris for decades. What was she like?
Besides being a wonderful business partner, Iris became an integral part of our family. My husband lost his mother when my son was 13 and Iris became a surrogate grandma to my kids. She walked my children down the aisle. She was always part of our family. My daughter Ashley loves interior design and Iris took her under her wing. My son is a filmmaker and Iris just loved his creativity. She always cheered him on. She had no children of her own but she was so maternal and inspirational to my children.

Everyone speaks about her fashion sense, but she was a savvy businesswoman too.
She was so ahead of her time. She really understood textiles. She was always so involved, even after she retired. She brought my husband John and his brother Steven Stark, who own Stark Carpet, everywhere and taught them how to buy and showed them what would sell. And we would go shopping together and buy vintage jewelry. She would say, “You must buy this tortoise shell link belt and this feather jacket.” I would say, “No, I can’t. I ‘m only 5’1.” And Iris would say, “You’ll love it. You’ll give it to your daughter.” She was fabulous.

Did her knowledge of textiles inform her fashion sense?
It was an extension of herself. Her knowledge extended way beyond anything. She took this leopard fabric from Old World Weavers and said “We’re going to make a coat out of it and add feathers.” I said, “Iris, isn’t that too much?” And she goes, “Nothing is too much.” She wasn’t a country club person and she knew it. She told me she was different than the other girls at these clubs. They were all wearing pink and green Jackie O. dresses with a pin on the left side. That wasn’t her. She would come in wearing big glasses and a wild outfit. And she embraced it. She said one reason she threw herself into her work is because nobody accepted her. Her husband Carl accepted her. They had a ferocious love affair. Iris embraced life and embraced who she was and allowed herself to be different. 

Did she ever dole out fashion advice?
She said girls should never wear a sleeveless dress. If you’ve got to raise your hand and wave goodbye, you don’t want arms that slap back and forth.

Do you have a favorite Iris memory?
We would go over to her house and she always had Christmas lights on year round. Iris told me, “Your life should sparkle no matter what season.” 

Recommended for You
Sign up to AVENUE Weekly
© 2024 Cohen Media Publications LLC. All rights reserved.