Iris Apfel, a Full Life in Full Looks

Iris Apfel, the O.G. geriatric fashion inspiration and influencer who died on Friday at age 102, was not an advocate of minimalism. She did not have much truck with stealth wealth or quiet luxury or the old axiom that elegance is refusal. She was not terribly interested in the tyranny of good taste. Where’s the fun in that?

She believed, rather, in the virtues of muchness, of giving free rein to your inner extremism and letting your fashion freak flag fly. Above all, she believed in the power of personal style, which she saw as another term for self-expression. Or self-creation.

For her, there was nothing wrong with loading on a forearm full of bangles and beads, with clashing multiple prints at once — as long as to her, they looked right. She wore her wrinkles, gray hair and giant magnifying glasses with the same aplomb she wore her piles of accessories. (She was of the Diana Vreeland school of thought, embracing her physical flaws and turning them into fashion statements.) She was snobby, not about class or money, but attitude.

Fashion loved her because while she loved it in return, she refused to follow it — instead, she made it her own. The older she got, the more wildly she dressed. Did she look ridiculous? Sometimes. Did she care? Not at all. At parties, she would preside from a throne — sorry, couch — her cane propped up nearby, issuing declamations as younger guests gathered around.

In a world where globalization means that the same shops are found on every street corner in all big cities, where social media means the same images permeate the ether in the digital sphere, where designers often seem to default in the belief that there is safety in numbers, and where fresh ideas are as rare as bluebells in the snow, the sense of discovery that once made dressing a delight has become generally dulled.

Ms. Apfel was an antidote to all of that. Her legacy is in her wardrobe and the courage and joy it took to wear it — just as she wanted. Remember that the next time you look in your closet.

Ms. Apfel with her husband, Carl Apfel, in 1994. The couple founded Old World Weavers, which sold and restored textiles, including many at the White House.Credit…The New York Times

Clockwise from top left: Ms. Apfel at Cipriani’s in 2016; at Calvin Klein’s show at New York Fashion Week in 2017; in 2013 at Lincoln Center; at an event hosted by Violet Grey in honor of Ms. Apfel in 2015; at New York Fashion Week in 2016; at the Morse show in 2016.

Ms. Apfel in 2003.Credit…Bill Cunningham/The New York Times
Ms. Apfel backstage at New York Fashion Week in 2016.Credit…Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
The 2005 show “Rara Avis: Selections From the Iris Apfel Collection” assembled 82 ensembles and 300 accessories at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.Credit…Bill Cunningham/The New York Times
The Nassau Museum of Art’s exhibition “Iris Apfel, Rare Bird of Fashion” in 2008.Credit…Phil Marino for The New York Times
Ms. Apfel, in the front row at New York Fashion Week in 2016.Credit…Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

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