Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel's Marriage: All About Their Decades-Long Romance

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Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel dated for less than five months before getting married in February 1948

NICK HUNT/Patrick McMullan/Getty
NICK HUNT/Patrick McMullan/Getty

Style icon Iris Apfel and her late husband, Carl Apfel, were married for nearly 70 years before his death in 2015.

The couple met in 1947 and had a whirlwind romance, marrying less than five months after their first date. They then launched a textile company together and were quickly tapped to be a part of the White House decorating team. Iris and Carl went on to decorate for nine different presidential administrations and travel the world together, sourcing materials for their company.

Their decades-long romance was also chronicled in the 2014 documentary Iris.

Carl died at the age of 101, but his presence still loomed large in Iris' world. Speaking with PEOPLE five years after his death in September 2021, she shared that part of what inspires her creative work was thinking about her "beautiful marriage" and Carl's encouragement.

"He really did push me. I had opportunities which I thought he would say, 'Oh, forget it.' But he'd say, 'No, do it. You got to do it,' " she said of Carl.

On March 1, 2024, Iris died at her home in Palm Beach, Florida. She was 102.

From their Thanksgiving proposal story to their nearly seven decades together, here's everything to know about Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel's relationship.

Summer 1947: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel meet in Lake George, New York

Iris Apfel Instagram
Iris Apfel Instagram

The style icon met her husband in 1947, while they both were vacationing in Lake George, New York. In an interview with Palm Beach Illustrated, Iris shared that it was the first vacation she took that she paid for herself, using her earnings from her job as a copy editor at Women's Wear Daily.

She also shared that they were both there with other people, so they didn't get together on the trip.

October 11, 1947: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel go on their first date

About a month after they first met in Lake George, Iris went out with "an old beau" in New York City. On the way home, they stopped briefly outside of Bonwit Teller to look at the window displays. When Iris arrived home that evening, her phone rang — it was Carl.

"And he told me he loved the hat I was wearing today, and that I had on a smashing suit," she recalled to Palm Beach Illustrated. "He had been on a bus that broke down in front of Bonwit Teller, and as he was waiting there for someone to come and fix it, he was looking at me."

Iris and Carl then decided to go on a date. They had their first date on Columbus Day, which fell on Oct. 11 that year. Iris was 26 at the time, and Carl was 33 years old.

November 25, 1947: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel get engaged

courtesy Iris Apfel Carl and Iris Apfel, cira 1970s
courtesy Iris Apfel Carl and Iris Apfel, cira 1970s

A little more than a month after their first date, Carl proposed to Iris on Thanksgiving Day, though she didn't get a ring until Christmas of that year. In a documentary about Iris' life and career, aptly called Iris, it's clear that the couple were attracted to each other from the start — and shared a dry sense of humor.

"There was something about her that just got into me," Carl said in the documentary, per the New York Times. "It's always there." Iris gave him a pat on the hand and said, "And I figured he was cool and he was cuddly, and he cooked Chinese, so I couldn't do any better."

February 22, 1948: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel get married

Less than three months after Carl's proposal, Iris and Carl got married. In Iris, she shared that she didn't particularly want to have a wedding. "I never wanted a wedding; I wanted to elope," she said as she looked through their wedding photos. "I said I'd rather have the money, but the parents and the grandparents wanted the wedding … It was a fairly small wedding — I think 125 people — but very posh."

Iris also pointed out that she chose a pink lace dress because she "wanted a dress that I could wear after the wedding and not just put in a box." She paired it with pale pink satin shoes, which she still has several decades later. "They're back in style. If you hang around long enough, everything comes back."

After their wedding, Iris and Carl headed to Palm Beach, Florida, for their honeymoon. "I got off the train in Palm Beach with seven pieces of old luggage and one new husband," she told Palm Beach Illustrated.

1950: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel create their textile company, Old World Weavers

Iris Apfel Instagram
Iris Apfel Instagram

After a couple of years of marriage, Iris and Carl launched Old World Weavers. The textile company specialized in restoring furnishings for homes. In Iris, Carl proudly shared that Iris had a natural talent when it came to sourcing materials and styling them. "I would go along with her. I'd take my little toolbox, hang the pictures," he said. "And I got a kick out of watching her make something beautiful."

1950s-1990s: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel are part of the decoration team for the White House

Iris Apfel Instagram
Iris Apfel Instagram

Though it's unclear when exactly the Apfels were hired, the couple worked on restoration projects at the White House for several presidential administrations, including presidents Truman, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

"It was a relatively easy job actually," Iris recalled of the job during a 2015 interview with The Guardian. "Because everything had to be as close as humanly possible to the way it was.

She added that one First Lady was a bit more difficult to work with, though. "Well ... until Mrs. Kennedy came along. She employed a very famous Parisian designer to gussy up the house and make it a real Frenchie, and the design community went bananas," she said. "After that we had to throw it all out and start again/ But I did like Mrs Nixon. She was lovely."

1992: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel sell Old World Weavers

Iris Apfel Instagram
Iris Apfel Instagram

After several decades, the couple made the decision to sell Old World Weavers to Stark in 1992. However, they stayed on with the company for 13 years after the sale.

Reflecting on the success of Old World Weavers in a 2018 interview with CNBC, Iris said, "I never thought that I couldn't do something because I was a woman. I wanted to start a fabric business, so I just figured out how to do it. If I and thought about opening Old World Weavers too much, I probably wouldn't have pursued my dream. Sometimes you just have to take action, even if it is a small step."

She continued, "In my ninety-some years of walking planet Earth, I have applied this philosophy to living — and dressing — and it has never steered me wrong."

September 13, 2005: Iris Apfel's personal collection goes on display at The Met

Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan/Getty
Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan/Getty

Iris' unique personal collection of clothes and accessories became an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, titled Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection. It came together when Harold Koda, the curator of the Met's Costume Institute, had a previously-scheduled show fall through. He reached out to Iris, who agreed to gift some of her items to the museum.

The show was a major success, and Iris started to get offers to collaborate with major brands like MAC Cosmetics. As Iris' celebrity status rose, Carl couldn't have been more supportive. "As friends have pointed out, some husbands would have been jealous, or envious, or annoyed," Iris shared with the New York Times. "But he just loved it, he wallowed in it."

October 9, 2014: Iris Apfel and Carl Apfel's love story is featured in the documentary Iris

Cindy Ord/Getty
Cindy Ord/Getty

A documentary all about Iris' life, including her marriage to Carl and their business partnership, debuted at the New York Film Festival in October 2014. Women's Wear Daily reported that Iris and Carl were "surrounded by fans" at the afterparty following Iris' debut. It was released theatrically the following year, in March 2015.

July 19, 2015: Iris Apfel shares why she and Carl Apfel never had children

Speaking to The Guardian, Iris said that running Old World Weavers meant that she and Carl were constantly traveling to source materials, which is part of the reason why they didn't have children.

"I don't believe in a child having a nanny, so it wasn't what we were going to do, but also having children is like protocol. You're expected to. And I don't like to be pigeonholed," she said.

August 1, 2015: Carl Apfel dies at age 100

A few days before his 101st birthday, Carl died on Aug 1, 2015. Speaking to the New York Times, Iris shared, that her husband was "a very generous man, and a very funny man. He had a great, dry sense of humor and he was very kind to everybody."

Designer and close friend of the Apfels, Duro Olowu, also spoke to the paper about Carl. "Carl was a wonderful man for many reasons: charming, caring and funny," Olowu shared. "A real gentleman with an inspiring and creative mind as well as exquisite taste and an impressive c.v. But most of all his dedication to Iris is an example to us all of true and unconditional love and mutual respect."

August 31, 2015: Iris Apfel honors Carl Apfel on Instagram

Iris Apfel Instagram
Iris Apfel Instagram

Iris honored her husband with an Instagram tribute a few weeks after his death. Alongside a photo of Carl wearing a colorful pair of green and blue pants with a black sweater tied around his shoulders, she wrote, "Carl left us to heaven on August 1st."

July 15, 2020: Iris Apfel opens up about grief following Carl Apfel's death

Speaking with PEOPLE, Iris shared how she turned to her creative work to cope in the wake of her husband's death. "Five years ago, my husband passed away. We had done everything together and I was devastated," she said. "I was in England promoting my documentary [Iris], and he died the day before I got home. So, it was very traumatic and I was crushed."

She continued, "I'm a very pragmatic person. And I finally decided, after weeks and weeks of terrible grief, that to just sit home and cry wouldn't help him, and it's certainly not helping me. And I was very lucky. The man upstairs took pity and saw to it that I got a lot of very interesting jobs and good commissions. And so, I started to work like a real nut, morning, noon and night and Sundays."

Around the same time, Iris channeled her grief into a color book titled IRIS: The Coloring Book.

September 1, 2021: Iris Apfel speaks to PEOPLE about her life with Carl Apfel

JOE SCHILDHORN/Patrick McMullan/Getty
JOE SCHILDHORN/Patrick McMullan/Getty

In honor of her 100th birthday, Iris spoke to PEOPLE about the lessons she'd learned throughout her life. Among other tidbits, she shared, "I had 68 years of a beautiful marriage. Carl died [in 2015] three days before his 101st birthday. At first I was just crushed. I didn't think I could manage, but I realized one day he wouldn't want me to sit around and mope, because he was like a stage mother."

February 14, 2022: Iris Apfel honors Carl Apfel on Valentine's Day

On Valentine's Day 2022, Iris posted a sweet tribute to her forever Valentine on Instagram. The fashion icon shared a slideshow of photos with a text overlay that read "Missing my funny Valentine."

The video was set to Frank Sinatra's "My Funny Valentine" and featured several pictures of her and Carl over the course of their relationship. She even included a couple of black-and-white photos from their early days as a married couple.

August 4, 2022: Iris Apfel celebrates Carl Apfel's 108th birthday

Bennett Raglin/WireImage
Bennett Raglin/WireImage

Iris posted on Instagram again to share some fond memories of her husband on what would have been his 108th birthday. She shared a sweet black-and-white photo of them kissing, as well as a throwback picture from one of their vacations, along with a few other images. In the caption, she wrote, "Sending champagne wishes and caviar dreams!"

February 12, 2023: Iris Apfel speaks about what made her relationship to Carl Apfel successful

ZACH HYMAN/Patrick McMullan/Getty
ZACH HYMAN/Patrick McMullan/Getty

Speaking to designer Alexis Bittar for an interview on Instagram Live, Iris shared some words of wisdom about how to have a successful long-term relationship. "First of all you have to like each other. Passion wears away soon, it's good to have, but I think in a relationship you should first be friends," she said. "And then I think you should both have a sense of humor. That's the most powerful tool, is humor."

She continued, "You shouldn't try to change one another. That will never work. Be yourself. You fell in love with him because of certain reasons, why would you try to change that now?"

March 1, 2024: Iris Apfel dies at age 102

The fashion icon died at her home in Palm Beach on March 1, 2024, a spokesperson for Apfel's estate confirmed to PEOPLE. A statement was also posted on the late fashion icon's Instagram account. Apfel was 102 years old.

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