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August 12, 2021 - By Joy Reed Belt

Iris Apfel (L'Officiel)

Throughout my life I found role models to help me understand what was possible, as well as what was appropriate in given situations. Of course my parents were my first role models. I admired and inherited qualities from both of them. Dad was intelligent, curious, opinionated, a bit driven and hard working. Mother was a loving, soft spoken, energetic, attractive woman who loved beautiful things. As a child I tried to act like my Dad and look like my mother. In fact, if I were to indulge in a little self analysis, that’s probably how I continue to behave. Of course when I became a teenager, there was a brief period of time when they weren’t cool anymore and I looked to literature, movies, and popular culture for inspiration. But my parents were pretty savvy. They kept tabs on me and periodically suggested alternate role models when it appeared that I was going to do something stupid.



"Orange Crush" by Aidan Danels 

Barbie, Styled by Iris Apfel (Amazon)

In High School and College most of my role models were teachers, the people I met at church, and always a wide assortment of friends. It was in high school that I began to want to dress like my friends. There were the prerequisite poodle skirts, the sweater sets with white Peter Pan collars and other apparel items that were considered to be cool. In College I majored in drama so the clothes I chose were pretty unusual and dramatic When I started graduate school, Jackie Kennedy was my style influencer. Her everyday travel style of white slacks or jeans and a dark top could take me almost anywhere I wanted to go except when I needed to wear a colorful sheath dress with pearls, or borrow an evening gown from my mother. In 1977, when I got my Ph.D. the Women’s Movement was gaining ground, it was understood that to achieve in a mans world a woman would have to “Dress for Success.” So during the 80’s I began to wear tailored suits along with khaki skirts and blazers. In fact I bought a couple women’s Oxxford Suits, and an Oxxford Overcoat from Connelly’s so that people in the business community would realize I was serious. 



Iris Apfel Barbie (Fashionista)

"Just Wait" by Denise Duong

Fast forward all these years later, I don’t think there are any expectations of how a Gallery owner should dress. But I realize that being that “Dress for Success” person in the 1980’s is in sharp contrast from the person who wore leopard print leggings to the Gallery yesterday. That might not have happened without the influence of a role model that I have been emulating for about 15 years now. Her name is Iris Apfel. On August 29th Iris will be 100 years old. One of the cool things about Iris is that too much is never enough.

In 2019, at the age of 97, Iris signed a modeling contract with the global agency, IMG. In 2005, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City premiered an exhibition about Apfel’s style entitled, Rara Avis, Rare Bird. She became the oldest person to ever have a Barbie doll made in her image. There are also two “Styled by Iris Apfel” Barbie dolls that are currently available. Every time I think about those dolls I have to struggle with myself to not go on Amazon and order one. In 1950, along with her late husband, Iris launched the textile firm “Old World Weavers” that they ran until 1992. They participated in a variety of design products including working at refurbishing the White House for nine different Presidents.


"Oversized White Resin Ball Necklace" by Stella Thomas 

"African Porcupine Bib Necklace with Horn Beads" by Stella Thomas

I suppose what I love the most about Iris is that she is an original who celebrates her personality every day and she truly loves the process of discovery. A couple of months ago I went to a group exhibition at the Paseo Creativity Center and saw a mixed media painting of Iris which I immediately purchased and hung in my home closet/dressing room. She inspires me every morning. Also, I am blessed to work in an art gallery that sells jewelry. The kind of jewelry that Iris wears. The pieces are large and made with unusual materials such as polished Water Buffalo Horns, Acrylic, huge Wooden Beads, and necklaces of Porcupine Quills. One of our artists has even been designing clothes for me that I am beginning to realize look a bit like some of the clothes Iris wears. Also like her, my eyeglasses continue to get bolder as I age. My jewelry gets larger and more dramatic everyday and I wear whatever I please. It’s very reassuring to know that no matter how old I get, I can always have a role model who encourages me to try new things and explore possibilities.


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