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Iris Apfel death: Tommy Hilfiger and Hannah Waddingham lead tributes to style icon, after death aged 102

Iris Apfel death: Tommy Hilfiger and Hannah Waddingham lead tributes to style icon, after death aged 102

Tommy Hilfiger and Hannah Waddingham are among the stars leading tributes to the late American style icon Iris Apfel, who has died aged 102.

The self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” worked for decades in the textile industry before she found fame in her eighties and became a ubiquitous tastemaker of design and style.

Apfel’s signature look was characterised by her oversized circular spectacles, layers of chunky jewellery and vibrant clothing, with her short white hair. Her style became the subject of a 2005 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which celebrated her eclectic wardrobe. More recently, she starred in campaigns for Citroën, H&M and eBay, and even had a Barbie doll inspired by her.

Apfel’s death was confirmed by her commercial agent, Lori Sale, who did not provide a cause of death. It is believed she died at her home in Palm Beach, Florida.

US designer Hilfiger, 72, hailed Apfel as an “innovator and leader” who “will go down in history”.

“Iris Apfel has become a world-famous fashion icon because of her incredible talent not only as an artist, but as an influencer,” he said in a statement.

“She has had an amazing effect on so many people with her huge heart and magic touch with everyone she meets.”

Apfel’s agent Sale said that working alongside the starlet was “the honour of a lifetime”.

Iris Apfel has died aged 102

(Getty Images for Central Park Tower)

She said: “I will miss her daily calls, always greeted with the familiar question: ‘What have you got for me today?’ 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 giant, distinctive spectacles that sat atop her nose.”

Sale continued: “Through those lenses, she saw the world as a kaleidoscope of colour, a canvas of patterns and prints.

“Her artistic eye transformed the mundane into the extraordinary and her ability to blend the unconventional with the elegant was nothing short of magical.”

Apfel at a charity event in New York City in 2019

(Getty Images for Fashion Footwear Charitable Foundation)

Designer Jenna Lyons commented on Apfel’s Instagram post: “Thank you for sharing your beautiful life.”

“The fashion gods are welcoming an icon,” wrote actor Lily Collins.

Singer Lenny Kravitz said online that Apfel “mastered the art of living”, adding: “Thank you for your energy and inspiration.”

Ted Lasso actor Waddingham also paid tribute, writing: “Ohhhhhh. Goodnight and God bless Ma’am. What joy and endless style you brought to so many.”

“Rest in power!” added model Tess Holliday. “Thank you for living your life so beautifully & inspiring so many of us to live boldly.”

Born Iris Barrel in 1921 in Queens, New York, Apfel studied art history at New York University and later attended art school at the University of Wisconsin.

Iris Apfel and models in a 2022 H&M campaign


She began a career as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily and later worked for the interior designer Elinor Johnson and the illustrator Robert Goodman.

In 1948, she married her late husband Carl Apfel, and together, they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they retired in 1992.

They carried out restoration projects for clients such as Greta Garbo, alongside work at the White House for nine presidents including Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton.

She didn’t find fame until she was in her eighties when her design expertise and eccentric style ethos attracted thousands of fans across the world. Aged 91, Apfel became Dazed magazine’s oldest cover star and in 2019, she signed with one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies, IMG, which has Gigi Hadid, Sienna Miller and Ashley Graham on its books.

By 101, Apfel had starred in her first beauty campaign when she modelled for Ciaté London and collaborated with the brand on a makeup line.

Apfel at a conference in Palm Beach, Florida in 2014

(Getty Images)

Just two days before her death was announced, Apfel celebrated her “half birthday” by sharing a picture of herself holding balloons that spelt out “102 and a half”.

“In half birthdays, I’m only 26!!! I’m 102 and a half today… happy leap day!” said her Instagram post.

When asked about ageing in a 2018 interview, Apfel said: “I wouldn’t want to stop the clock. No, that would be so boring. It would be like being caught in a time machine, a time warp. I don’t like that. I think variety is the spice of life.”

She told Vogue that she bought clothes based on the “joy” that each item brings her.

“I think my closet is full of joy. I try not to put anything in there that I don’t like or have fun with,” she said.

“Over the last 100 years, I have learnt style is everything.”

She said that she carried her ethos of sartorial expression into her interiors.

“What better place to express yourself than the kitchen? To me, dressing a house and dressing a person are one and the same. It’s the same aesthetic. If you come into it, you know it’s my house. I think a house should reflect the people who live there.”

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