Born Iris Barrel, she was the only child of Samuel Barrel (born 1897), whose family owned a glass and mirror business, and his Russian-born wife, Sadye (aka Syd), who owned a fashion boutique. She studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin. As a young woman Barrel worked for Women’s Wear Daily and for interior designer Elinor Johnson. She also was an assistant to illustrator Robert Goodman.In 1948 she married Carl Apfel. Two years later they launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they retired in 1992. During this time, Iris Apfel took part in many design restoration projects, including work at the White House for nine presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. Iris Apfel still consults, and also lectures about style and other fashion topics.
This Legendary tastemaker, Iris Apfel will be presenting 80 ensembles from her own collection in an exhibit titled “Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel”. Iris is known for her eclectic mixing of high and low pieces and has endlessly influenced the fashion industry with her spirited irreverence and impeccable taste. Some of her most well known and unexpected wardrobe combinations will be exhibited at the Peabody Essex Museum from now until February 7, 2010.