Victoria’s Secrets: Fond farewell, Iris

Wearing Iris’ necklace at the The Hampton Synagogue sale.

What a singular life she lived. 

The unique Iris Apfel died peacefully at 102 ½  years old on the afternoon of March 1, quietly holding the hand of her beloved caretaker after earlier telling her, “I’m leaving you soon.”

Iris leaves behind an indelible mark with her endless creativity that helped to make the world a more beautiful place.

I met Iris when she came to The Hampton Synagogue, having been brought there by Donna Schneier, Rabbi Marc Schneier’s mom who’s known Iris for decades. It was an opportunity to celebrate Iris’ 101st birthday with a dinner and fundraising sale of her unique collection of jewelry.

Seen at the BIJOUX! art jewelry show at the Boca Raton Museum of Art
Jewelry being prepared for Iris’ sale

For those of you who don’t know who Iris is, you must’ve seen pictures of her with her iconic round glasses that showed her uniqueness and fashion style. She believed “more is more” when most people always think “less is more.” She made an art of layering and wearing jewelry like no one else.

She was already world famous when I met her, but we shared moments together both in her apartment in Palm Beach and during her stay in the Hamptons.

It was such fun to see her seemingly endless collection of jewelry in display cases in the youth center of the synagogue and I think her collecting and working kept her alive! It’s hard to believe anyone can collect so much in one lifetime!

Iris Apfel at her 101st birthday celebration at The Hampton Synagogue hosted by Donna Schneier and Rabbi Marc & Simi Schneier. “We mourn the passing of our distinguished benefactor who gave of her time and resources for the building of the magnificent Hampton Synagogue Children’s Center in Westhampton Beach.”

As members, we were asked to volunteer to help with the sale and what fun it was! We got the first looks at all the things she brought — there were hundreds and hundreds of items! We laughed and laughed as we tried on different items — some outrageous, some elegant and some just fun. Of course, I couldn’t resist buying a few items and I must say that, to this day when I wear them, they are showstoppers; that’s what Iris was, a showstopper never afraid to venture into new projects and look unique. 

In fact, in her final years, she created a line of rugs and brooches. She was an indomitable spirit. 

Her husband Carl passed away many years ago and she had no family, but she had these two wonderful women, Juliette and Jennifer, who lovingly cared for her and protected her. They even helped her do sales as she greeted people who gobbled up her items.

While she was in Westhampton Beach, she stayed for a week with Carol Levin, president of The Hampton Synagogue, in her magnificent home where she had room for both Iris and her two companions. 

Iris & Carol Levin

On the last day of her visit, Iris told Carol to pick something out from her collection that she might like as a thank you for hosting them. When Carol chose something, Iris said, “oh no, no, no, that’s too expensive, choose something else!” That was Iris.

When I admired a Marabou jacket she had and told her I’d like to buy it, she wouldn’t sell it — and it was one of many that she had. What was she going to do with it at 101? 

I also had the pleasure of visiting Iris in her Palm Beach apartment, which was filled from floor to ceiling; in fact, it was even hard to walk from room to room! She made me promise I wouldn’t show the video I took of her apartment.

A sculpture of Iris in her apartment
One of many pieces of artwork of Iris in her apartment

I went there because I wanted to honor her at the Dan’s Paper’s Palm Beach Power List awards and I think she wanted to get to know me better to see if she should accept. To my delight, she did, and when she came to the event, everybody gathered around her, wanting to take a photo with her. She was such a charismatic figure! 

I think Iris is an inspiration who, although she had no family, was surrounded by people who adored her and recognized her genius. It was fun to go with her to visit her friend, Christie Brinkley in the Hamptons, who hosted a birthday celebration for her. There were many boldface people at the party, but everybody wanted to talk to Iris.

Christie Brinkley had a birthday celebration at her Hamptons home.

Iris and her husband created Old World Weavers, a company that replicated historic fabrics they found in their world travels. She was hired by nine First Ladies to decorate the White House!

And her jewelry collection put together from endless trips abroad made her famous enough to have had an Iris Apfel exhibit at the Costume Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Afterwards, she donated the clothes and accessories that were on exhibit. 

Working was her lifelong passion. She left an indelible mark with her endless creativity that helped to make our world a more beautiful place. I will be thinking of you every time I wear jewelry from your collection. Rest in peace, Iris. 

See more photos of Iris below: