Iris Apfel is an entrepreneur and interior designer who has headed White House restoration projects for nine presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
A native New Yorker, Apfel studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin. She worked for Women’s Wear Daily and interior designer Elinor Johnson before launching the textile firm Old World Weavers with her husband. An icon on the New York fashion scene, Apfel still consults and lectures about style, fashion and design. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art premiered an exhibition about Apfel entitled Rava Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel.
Meet Iris Apfel
Expertise: That’s for the experts to decide
Location: My official residence is in Palm Beach but I keep an apartment in New York because I could never give up this marvelous town
Interests: All over the map. People; politics; jazz; collecting everything that I enjoy that I can get my grubby paws on; selected charities; Miss Piggy; stuffed animals; museums; style and design; antique textiles; dogs; jewelry: antique, ethnic and costume; the magnificent work done by dedicated souls who train animals to help the blind and physically impaired, for example, guide dogs for the blind and Capuchin monkeys who perform tasks for the quadriplegic.
Background: Attended art schools during childhood. Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and studied at NYU, Cornell and the New School. Had jobs in editorial fashion and interior design. Lectured at many museums, universities, and art schools. Ran a successful interior design firm for many years. With my husband, Carl, I founded Old World Weavers, a luxury resource for drapery and upholstery, specializing in the replication of period fabrics. This began a lifelong journey abroad in the search for beautiful objects. The company was sold to Stark Carpet Corporation in 1992 and we remained there for 18 years as consultants. Was honored by a number of charities for my volunteer work over the years and in Palm Beach, where I resides, I was named “Woman of the Year 2010.” Had multiple museum exhibits coast to coast with my collection of Native American art and Ching Dynasty costumes and textiles. My proudest achievement came when the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art honored me with a groundbreaking one-woman show called Rara Avis that showcased my irreverent personal style. After the Met, the exhibit traveled to other museums around the country. I collaborated with Eric Boman on his book, Rare Bird of Fashion (Thames & Hudson) and the exhibit was thus renamed. The entire experience made me a geriatric starlet!
Favorite meal: A crock of caviar with a chilled vodka or, if money is not flowing, a cheese soufflé with a green salad.
Recent purchase: Another feathered coat and some more fabulous bangles.
Hidden talent: I’m totally exposed. What you see is what you get.
Book/film recommendation: Right at the moment I’m going over the collected work of T.S. Eliot.
Restaurant recommendation: La Grenouille.
If I had $20, I’d… Give it to one of my favorite charities like the Lighthouse or Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Transformative travel experience: The first time I set foot on European soil in the very early Fifties. It changed my life.
Favorite neighborhood: Normally, wherever I happen to be.
Dream holiday: A segue from souk to souk from North Africa to the Middle East, open-air markets and bazaars included.
If I could solve one problem, it would be: Polishing up discipline’s tarnished image and, as a service to many beleaguered women, I would open a very chic shop on Madison Avenue called Sleeves and supply them with evening dresses that covered their upper arms. I think I would be doing a great public service.
I wish people cared more about: How they treat each other. I’m also very concerned about their lack of caring about their appearances in public. It shows a lack of self-respect.
Recent big aha!: My proposed entry into the 21st century via a laptop my husband just purchased. After I learn how to use it I’ll be able to release my flock of messenger pigeons.
The world would be a better place if: Flip-flops and stretch pants were outlawed.