She scoured European villages for weavers - Old World Weavers - and with her husband founded a company by that name. Iris Apfel loves textiles in a deep-down scholarly way. With a sharply discerning eye, she knows the pure quality of old world techniques and designs - and gave her life to preserving them, such that nine presidents of the United States came to Iris to reproduce significant historic textiles for the White House.
As Iris traveled the world, she collected exotic artisanal garments and hand-crafted jewelry, layering them poshly and making a splash at New York social affairs. In fact, she became so well-known for her chic styling of global wares that in 2005 the Metropolitan Museum of Art curated an exhibit of her clothing - the first non-designer to have such a show - and called it, Rare Bird of Fashion.
A friend clipped news of the exhibit catalog and snuck into my husband's office where she planted it on his desk with a large note: Buy This Book For Susan. Smart man; he did. I devoured all that I saw on those pages - the glorious feathers of this rare bird spread in full plumage. Utterly inspired.
In the 14 years since, Iris Apfel has risen to geriatric stardom, as she likes to call it - a household name - and at 97 just signed on with IMG modeling agency. Accidental Iconis her best-selling book. Iris has curated fashion collections, designed new lines of jewelry, taught design students at the University of Texas, and turned her signature round frames and stacks of jewelry into an iconic style beloved the world over. Even spawned a Barbie doll.
Personal style really originated with Iris Apfel,according to Man Repeller's Leandra Medine. She has always espoused the virtues of not just dressing for yourself, but being who you are and doing it unapologetically . . .
Which is why three different friends of Iris and Ibu felt compelled to bring us together to do some magic.
Walking into the home of mutual friend, Weegie Antle, Iris begins to flutter her long fingers over our stacks of Ibu jewelry piled high for her perusal. She knows what she likes, and doesn't, her instinct for style is unerring and at all moments, clear. She slips on our new Mola Sasa dress from Colombia with leopard appliqué and rummages for a striped tee to go beneath it, taking it to the next level of panache. She pulls the Kyrgyz shawl with the same pattern over her shoulder, piles African mud beads around her neck and bangles up her wrists and walks into the sun, camera ready. She changes into a flaming fire-orange dress, completely unafraid of the bright colors, then later dons a graphic black and white wrap and takes a quiet approach to Ibu chic. Iris studies each piece closely - the hand, the feel, the fit. Her sensibility is refined over decades of study. She nods in approval. I sigh in relief.
The average age of her 1.2 million instagram followers is 35 and most know nothing about her esteemed career and passion for textiles. They love her look. But as I hear Iris talk about artisanal work, her deep knowledge of craft, her love of global glamour . . . I am more proud than ever to celebrate this woman. And humbled that she would want to celebrate Ibu.
By the end of dinner, ten hours later, I asked Iris why she would do this beautiful thing - throwing her name and weight behind the Ibu Movement as one of our celebrated Faces of Ibu. Her answer took me to tears. Hear for yourself below.
I have rarely met someone as vivid, as alive, as vital, vivacious, irreverent, joyous, relevant, and needed as Iris, say designer Dries Van Noten. She breathes young air, thinks young thoughts, and gathers no dust.
With admiration and joy I give you this Ibu I have come to adore and respect. Iris. Ibu. Icon. Iconoclast. Epitome of Individual Style.
Susan Hull Walker