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Wonder Woman Wednesday: Iris Apfel

The creative entrepreneur Iris Apfel is next up in our Wonder Woman Wednesday series…

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Iris at her book signing. Image taken from her Instagram:
Iris at her book signing. Image taken from her Instagram:

Everyone here at Bridal Buyer is celebrating the iconic fashionista Iris Apfel who is celebrating her 97th birthday today.

Read more: Wonder Woman Wednesday profile on jewellery designer Chupi Sweetman.

Iris is not only a successful designer and entrepreneur, but a walking fashion icon and inspiration to women. Iris has spent 97 years refusing to live by social norms, including expectations of her as a woman.

A Creative Career

Iris’s creative career ranged from her work as a textile designer to her job as an interior designer for the White House, where she worked under multiple presidencies.

Read more: Wonder Woman Wednesday profile on bridal designer Charlie Brear.

The creative’s love for fashion started as a young girl in her home state of New York. As a child, Iris would travel through different suburbs in search of pieces to add to her wide collection of wonderful bits and pieces.

In her 2015 documentary, Iris recalls finding the first ever piece in her collection:

“I was about maybe 11/12 years’ old. There was a little shop in a basement of one of those old-fashioned kind of tenement houses that had the fire escapes outside, and I’ll never forget that place because I thought it was Aladdin’s cave. There was this little man. His name was Mr. Darris, and he was threadbare but elegant. He always wore spats and a monocle...and I always tell everybody he treated me like a mini duchess."

"I came in and he’d never seen a kid be so interested in all this junk before. I fixed on a brooch. I just thought it was the cat’s pyjamas and I really lusted after that piece,” Iris explains. “We haggled a little bit over the piece. Anyway, I bought it for the magnificent sum of 65 cents. He gave it to me. I was so thrilled, my God.”

Read more: Wonder Woman Wednesday profile on bridal designer Jacqui James.

A Background in Business

Not only, however, does her background lie in the creative sphere, as Iris has started multiple successful business endeavors behind her: jewellery and clothing lines as well as the textile company, Old World Weavers that she and her husband Carl co-founded after only two years of marriage.

The Love Story

Iris’s success story wouldn’t be completed without mention of her loving relationship with her husband, Carl. The designer would dress her husband in unique pieces like his orange paisley trousers and rounded tortoise shell glasses similar to the ones that she is so well known for.

The couple’s relationship seemed to grow stronger over the years of their exceptionally long marriage. In her book Iris comments on her marriage with Carl, who died in 2015, aged 100:

"Everyone he ever touched knows he was truly a gentleman. His humor and generosity were legendary. We did almost everything together. His encouragement and unwavering support made this book possible. He pushed me into the limelight and then basked in my success. He got much more of a kick from the accolades I received than I did. I miss him madly. Sleep well, sweet prince."

Read more: Wonder Woman Wednesday profile on jewellery designer Béatrice de Montille.

Life Lessons by Iris

Iris’s book is also packed with motivational life lessons for a happy and successful life. The following messages are ideal for female business owners:

  1. Do what excites you:

“If something sounds exciting and interesting I do it — and then I worry about it later. Doing new things takes a lot of energy and strength. It’s very tiring to make things happen, to learn how to master a skill, to push fears aside. Most people would rather just go with the flow; it’s much easier. But it’s not very interesting.”

  1. To not try is to fail:

"You only fail if you do not try. I never thought that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I wanted to start a fabric business, so I just figured out how to do it. If I and thought about opening Old World Weavers too much, I probably wouldn’t have pursued my dream.”

  1. You’re not going to impress everyone:

"If you have to be all things to all people, you end up being nothin’ to nobody. The way I dress may be ’different’ or ’eccentric’ to some who feel the need to label, but that’s of no concern to me. I don’t dress to be stared at; I dress for myself. When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else."

Read more: Wonder Woman Wednesday profile on shoe designer Emmy Scarterfield.

In the documentary on Iris’s life, she explains how people who interview her "keep asking if I have any rules. And I say, I don’t have any rules because I would only be breaking them, so it’s a waste of time.”

Iris’s lack of rules and position against social constructs is an inspiration to all women. Her creative and entrepreneurial background, coupled with her energy, passion, drive and individuality should be motivational to women in business across the globe.

If you’re inspired by the breadth and depth of Iris’s achievements, learn about Karren Brady’s working life here.

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