Iris Apfel, American designer and style icon, is just five months away from another impressive milestone. This summer, America’s most extravagant fashionista could have turned 103 years old. Apfel passed away last Friday. The sad news was confirmed by her representative Stu Loeser.

“Iris Apfel. a New York City star known for her eclectic style, particularly her oversized black-rimmed glasses, died Friday at home in Palm Beach, Florida,” Loeser said.

Apfel was born in New York on 29 August 1921 and was the only child in a family of Jews who immigrated to America. At the age of 12, she became seriously interested in fashion. In her memoirs, she said that the creative spark in her helped to ignite her grandmother – at one of the family meetings that gave her samples of fabrics.

“She said: “Look, you can play with all these scraps – do whatever you want with them, and if you like them, I’ll let you take home six of your choice.” That’s how the textile world came into my life. I was really interested in combining colours. That was my first dose of what it meant to be creative. I must have been about five years old,” Apfel told Vogue magazine.

In her memoir, Apfel recalled Easter 1933. Her mother, who had her own boutique, gave her $25 to dress for the Easter parade on Fifth Avenue. She found a dress for $12.95 and a pair of shoes for $3.95. That left more for a straw hat, a light lunch and a transport ticket home.

Thus began her career as what she called herself, a “black belt shopper.”

“I am always asked about my favourite this or my favourite that. I hate that question! If I like something, I just like it. It’s an intuitive feeling.”

Along with her late husband Carl Apfel, who also lived to be 100 (he died in 2015), Iris was co-owner of Old World Weavers, an international textile firm, for nearly four decades (from 1950 to 1992). They worked on White House projects with nine U.S. presidents, including Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. Travelling the world, Apfel regularly added to her wardrobe and jewellery collection. She once likened creating outfits to jazz improvisation.

“I love the individuality. There’s so much that’s the same. I don’t have any rules because I would only break them, so it’s a waste of time,” she told Elle magazine.

In 2005, the Met’s Costume Institute made Apfel’s wardrobe the centrepiece of the exhibition, turning it into an overnight sensation. Her large black-rimmed glasses and invariably colourful wardrobe became not just her trademark, but an entire trend. A Barbie doll was made in Apfel’s image, and the brand H&M released a joint collection in 2022.

“If I could be true to one era forever,’ she wrote in her memoir, ‘I wouldn’t do it. I don’t believe in it. The secret to being young at heart, she observed, is to always look at the world as if you were discovering it for the first time.”