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Iris Apfel, fashion icon known for her striking style, dies at the age of 102

NEW YORK — Iris Apfel, a textile expert, interior designer and fashion celebrity known for her eccentric style, has died. She was 102.

Her death was confirmed by her commercial agent, Lori Sale, who called Apfel “extraordinary.” No cause of death was given. It was also announced on her verified Instagram page on Friday, which had celebrated Leap Day representing her 102nd and a half birthday a day earlier.

Born on August 29, 1921, Apfel was known for her irreverent, statement outfits, which combined haute couture and oversized costume jewelry. For example, a classic Apfel look combines a feather boa with strands of chunky beads, bracelets and a jacket decorated with Native American beadwork.

With her large, round glasses with black frames, bright red lipstick and short white hair, she stood out at every fashion show she attended.

Her style was the subject of museum exhibits and a documentary film, “Iris,” directed by Albert Maysles.

“I’m not beautiful, and I’ll never be beautiful, but that doesn’t matter,” she once said. ‘I have something much better. I have style.’

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FILE – Iris Apfel takes a seat before modeling the Serena Williams Signature Statement Spring 2017 collection during Fashion Week in New York, Monday, September 12, 2016.

Seth Wenig / AP


Apfel rose to fame on social media later in life, amassing nearly 3 million followers on Instagram, where her profile reads, “More is more & Less is a Bore.” On TikTok, she attracted 215,000 followers while exploring fashion and style and promoting recent collaborations.

“Being stylish and being fashionable are two completely different things,” she said in a TikTok video. “You can easily find a way to be fashionable. I think style is in your DNA. It implies originality and courage.”

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

“Working with her was the honor of my life. I will miss her daily phone calls, always greeted with the familiar question, ‘What do you have for me today?'” Sale said in a statement. “A testament to her insatiable desire to work. She was a visionary in every sense of the word. She saw the world through a unique lens – one adorned with a pair of giant, eye-catching glasses that sat atop her nose.”

Apfel was an expert in textiles and antique fabrics. 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 famous clients included Estee Lauder and Greta Garbo.

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

Her originality is typically reflected in her mix of high and low fashion – Dior haute couture with flea market finds, 19th century ecclesiastical robes with Dolce & Gabbana lizard trousers. even in their most extreme and baroque form, they represented a ‘bold graphic modernity’.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, was one of several museums around the country that hosted a traveling version of the show. Apfel later decided to donate hundreds of pieces to the Peabody — including couture dresses — to help them build what she called “a fantastic fashion collection.” The Museum of Fashion & Lifestyle near Apfel’s winter home in Palm Beach, Florida, is also planning a gallery dedicated to displaying items from Apfel’s collection.

Apfel was born in New York City to Samuel and Sadye Barrel. Her mother owned a boutique.

Apfel’s fame in her later years included appearances in advertisements for brands such as MAC Cosmetics and Kate Spade. She also designed a line of accessories and jewelry for Home Shopping Network, collaborated with H&M on a collection of brightly colored clothing, jewelry and shoes that sold out in minutes, released a makeup line with Ciaté London, an eyewear collection with Zenni and collaborated with Ruggable in the field of floor coverings.

In a 2017 interview with AP, at the age of 95, she said her favorite contemporary designers were Ralph Rucci, Isabel Toledo and Naeem Khan, but added: “I have so much, I don’t go looking.” Asked for her fashion advice, she said: “Everyone should find their own way. I’m big on individuality. I don’t like trends. If you learn who you are and what you look like and what you can handle, then do you know what to do.”

She called herself the “accidental icon,” which became the title of a book she published in 2018, filled with her memories and style musings. Odes to Apfel abound, from a Barbie in her likeness to T-shirts, glasses, artwork and dolls.

Apfel’s husband predeceased her. They had no children.

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