Iris The Nonagenarian

She’s 93 (63 years my senior), she was born Iris Barrel and was an only child, she comes from Queens, New York and she studied Art History in NYU.

She’s Iris, the beautiful Grande Dame of fashion.

In 1948 she married the love of her life, Carl Apfel, together they ran the textile firm Old World Weavers until they retired in 1992.


She is an extraordinary woman, she worked in design restoration at The White House for nine Presidents – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. No mean feat I’d say. Hardly a chilled-out bunch of lads.


She now lives with her husband in their Park Avenue Apartment. Which is more like a museum than a home. A place to worship in rather than dine-in perhaps.


When iris worked in retail as a young woman she was once told by a well-known Department Store owner that she wasn’t pretty, never would be, but that it didn’t matter because she had something better, she had style.



I can relate to this, well not the style part, but the being different part, not like all the other girls, teenagers in the 90s on Dublin’s southside donned skinny jeans, tiny t-shirts and six-inch heels, I always wanted to experiment with my clothes, to push boundaries, even though it rarely worked it didn’t matter,  I wanted the denim debs dress, the sequinned runners, the red henna hair, the lace tights instead of school socks, the 60s black-flick liner, the Buddy Holly heavy-rimmed glasses, the corn-rows when they definitely were not cool on a white girl going to school in Rathgar, the huge plastic earrings, the mad belts. the Bardot tops, the luminous dresses.

That was me, and though I am far from a rare bird I appreciate Iris and what she did and does for the fashion industry.


At the age of 90 Iris was a visiting Professor at the University of Texas in Austin and in 2005 The Costume institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art premiered an exhibition about Iris entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird) dedicated to Iris’s clothes, accessories and furnishings.

She also inspired the rise of the senior supermodel: Joan Didion for Céline, Charlotte Rampling for Nars, Joni Mitchell for Yves Saint Laurent. Apfel herself for Kate Spade.


In 2013 she was listed as one of the 50 best dressed over 50 in The Guardian and was the subject this Documentary in 2014 Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

Now Iris is the subject of another documentary by the late Albert Maysles, who brought us Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens, it premiered at the new York Film Festival in October 2014 and it prompted me to write this post. I adored the film and laughed and cried in equal measure, it is so full of hope, colour, New York’s quirks, fearlessness and the reality of getting older in a young world. Not only is she one helluva stylish lady, she’s a businesswoman, an artist, a feminist, an octogenarian, a designer, a model, a muse and just oh so fabulous!!!


To check out more of the fabulous offerings showing at The Lighthouse Cinema check out their site. It is my favourite place to while away a few hours every week.

By the way you can now Like us on Facebook A Hitchhikers Guide To Life


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