Fashion icon Iris Apfel celebrates 102nd birthday in style: ‘As beautiful as ever’

Apfel at a charity event in New York City in 2019 (Getty Images for Fashion Footwear Charitable Foundation)

Style icon Iris Apfel has celebrated turning 102 years old in true “Barbiecore” fashion.

Apfel reached the milestone age on Wednesday 29 August. In honour of her birthday, the fashion designer shared a pink-filled photo of herself to Instagram, with Kool & The Gang’s "Celebration” playing in the background.

“102 today… who would’ve thought!!” she captioned the post, which featured animated pink balloons flying over her head. In the image, Apfel posed in her eccentric New York City apartment, complete with a white porcelain dog statue and a gold accent table.

She was dressed in head-to-toe pink, along with her signature oversized, black round eyeglasses. Apfel wore a large, baby pink cape à la fellow icon André Leon Talley, and layered, chunky necklaces and bangles. She finished the look with salmon-coloured trousers, floral socks, and hot pink ballet flats with a bow.

In the comments, many fans and famous friends rushed to wish the 102-year-old interior designer a happy birthday.

“HBD, Iris!!!” wrote none other than the official Instagram account for Barbie.

“You make 102 look fabulous!” said one fan.

Another follower commented: “As beautiful as ever!”

“Forever an icon,” a third person said, while someone else wrote: “What an achievement!”

On Tuesday, Apfel also celebrated her birthday with an intimate dinner at Tutto il Giorno in the Hamptons, New York, where she was joined by designer Donna Karan, model Christie Brinkley, and Brinkley’s daughter, Alexa Ray Joel. The model shared a series of photos and videos with the fashion legend to Instagram in honour of her birthday.

“Happy Birthday to Iris! She’s 102 and she’s got more style than me and you!” Brinkley captioned her poem-like birthday tribute. “She’s the queen of fashion who gets better every year, and today’s her birthday, did you hear? She’s got her trademark glasses and a wardrobe of fun and we wish her every happiness under the sun.

“She’s smart and savvy and extremely witty and she wants everyone to know that individuality is always pretty, that we should all be ourselves, one of a kind,” Brinkley wrote. “Good advice like that’s hard to find. So thank you Iris for all you do, to say to people, ‘You do you!’ (Like you do so well!). Happy Birthday Iris! We LOVE YOU!”

Apfel was born in 1921 in Queens, New York, to a father whose family owned a glass and mirror business, and a mother who owned a fashion boutique. Along with her late husband, Carl Apfel, she launched the textile firm Old World Weavers in 1950, which ran until they retired in 1992. Throughout her career, she took on restoration projects in the White House for nine US presidents.

In 2005, she showcased her large collection of clothing and accessories in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, titled “Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel”. Her decades-long career in fashion and design became the subject of a 2015 documentary, simply called Iris. In 2019, she signed a modelling contract with global agency IMG at age 97.

In an interview with Today following her 100th birthday, Apfel spoke candidly about her age and revealed why she’ll never retire. “Oh, I love to work. It’s fun because I enjoy it,” she said. “And then I can help people. I can give employment. People tell me I inspire them. So many good things come out of it.”

“I think retiring at any age is a fate worse than death,” she continued. “Just because a number comes up doesn’t mean you have to stop.”

Despite turning 100 at the time, Apfel explained that she didn’t see her age as a reason to “change” her lifestyle or career “overnight”.

“I didn’t change overnight because the number changed,” she said. “I want to keep on working and doing different projects.” Instead, her motto at work is to “just do what [she]” feels and to do what she feels in her heart, rather than “verbalising” it.

“I just feel it. If it feels right here,” she said, pointing at her heart.