Press \\ Press Release

PEM Celebrates a Century of Iris Apfel

Released September 9, 2021

Month-long celebration includes special programming, a pop-up shop, and the inaugural Iris Apfel Award presented to American designer, Tommy Hilfiger

SALEM, MA — The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) honors the 100th birthday of global fashion icon Iris Apfel with a month-long celebration featuring special programming, a pop-up shop, and the inaugural Iris Apfel Award presented to American designer, Tommy Hilfiger. Known for her daring personal style and signature round glasses, Apfel has bedazzled fashion, interior design, and museum enthusiasts for decades. PEM hosted the blockbuster exhibition Iris Apfel: Rare Bird of Fashion in 2009-10 and is home to one of the largest collections of Iris Apfel fashion and accessories collections, which are displayed on an ongoing basis in the museum’s Iris Barrel and Carl Apfel Gallery. To learn more visit and follow along using #Iris100

“An irreverent creative force with an entrepreneurial spirit, Iris Apfel is a true original,” said Petra Slinkard, PEM’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and The Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles. “On the occasion of her 100th year, PEM is delighted to honor the legacy and impact of Mrs. Apfel and her late husband, Carl, in memorable ways.”

Iris Apfel and Tommy Hilfiger

This fall, Iris will present the very first Iris Apfel Award to Tommy Hilfiger in a virtual event. Originally scheduled for September 17, a new date for this event will be announced soon.

Iris selected Tommy as someone who is a creative force in the industry, and as someone who demonstrates excellence in design in balance with good business sense and entrepreneurial acumen. The public is invited to attend this virtual program, which features a conversation between Iris and Tommy moderated by Slinkard.

“No one has challenged the normative standards of fashion and beauty more than Iris Apfel, who became the face of MAC Cosmetics, in bold red lipstick, at the age of 90,” said Slinkard. “Apfel has spent a lifetime inspiring bold developments in the fashion industry through her spirited irreverence and pitch-perfect taste. This award to Mr. Hilfiger honors TOMMY HILFIGER’s efforts to make dressing more effortless for people with disabilities through its global adaptive fashion line.”

The century of style Iris Apfel ornament

Pieces from Iris’ wardrobe and jewelry collection and limited-edition ornaments featuring the likeness of Iris and Carl Apfel will be available in the PEM shop. The popular and empowering series Little People, Big Dreams now includes a book on Iris Apfel, which will also be available in the shop. Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Kristen Barnhart, the book includes a biographical timeline of Iris’ long life and traces her life from an only child in Queens to the fashion icon she is today.

Beginning in mid-September, a three-story Iris-inspired window installation at 179 Essex Street in Salem will be unveiled featuring imagery from the Iris X Zenni Zentennial eyewear collection photographed by celebrated photographer and Apfel collaborator Ruvén Afanador. As part of a multi-year partnership, Zenni Eyewear has collaborated with Iris to create a signature “Zentennial” collection of eyewear that in true Iris fashion, are in bright hues and bold patterns with head-turning cat eyes, round and square shapes. Passersby can “window shop,” taking in an Iris themed display, featuring lush fabrics from Zimman’s in Lynn, and honoring PEM’s favorite centenarian.”

The Gallery Experience
PEM is honored to care for and present Iris Apfel’s Rare Bird of Fashion collection. In the museum’s Fashion and Design gallery, visitors can experience 18 full ensembles from the Apfels, 15 from Iris, and 3 from her late husband, Carl. These ensembles rotate on a regular basis to protect the garments from excessive light exposure and ensure that the installation stays lively and fresh. The Carl & Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery at PEM is given in loving memory of Iris’ parents Sam and Syd Barrel.

Born on August 29, 1921, Iris Apfel has been the subject of several museum exhibitions, a coffee-table book, a documentary, a campaign for MAC Cosmetics and even had two Barbie™ dolls created in her likeness. Iris and Carl Apfel founded the company Old World Weavers to meet their needs and those of other designers looking for exceptional fabrics that mimicked the look and feel of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Iris began to accentuate her personal wardrobe with things found during their global travels. The company went on to become one of the most successful fabric manufacturers in the United States. The couple worked with a number of elite clients, such as Estée Lauder and Greta Garbo but their biggest most consistent job has to have been re-designing the interiors of the United States White House for nine sitting presidents. In 2009/2010, PEM was the final venue for the traveling exhibition, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel. Iris Apfel loved PEM’s installation of her collection so much that at the exhibition’s close, she bequeathed her entire Rare Bird of Fashion collection to the museum (90 complete ensembles), thus igniting PEM’s fashion initiative. Since then, the museum has benefited greatly from Apfel’s generosity as she continues to donate her clothing to the museum on an annual basis. In 2018 Apfel enabled PEM to acquire pieces from her late husband Carl’s wardrobe, which was both an honor and a privilege for the museum.

Since launching his namesake brand in 1985, Tommy Hilfiger has become globally renowned as the pioneer of classic American cool style. Inspired by iconic pop culture and Americana heritage, the designer and his brand are driven by an ever-optimistic vision to break conventions and celebrate individuality. Today, under Hilfiger’s guidance, vision and leadership as Principal Designer, TOMMY HILFIGER is one of the world’s most recognizable lifestyle brands that shares its inclusive and youthful spirit with consumers worldwide. Full bio

Zenni pioneered the online eyewear industry in 2003 with a mission to make prescription eyewear affordable and accessible to everyone. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Zenni offers men, women, and children the freedom to express their personal style through high-quality prescription and protective eyewear curated with a sense for fashion and incredible selection. With complete prescription pairs starting at just $6.95, and averaging just over $40, the company has brought massive price disruption to the traditional retail model. With over 40 million frames sold worldwide, a pair of Zennis is owned in every country across the globe. Zenni is proud to be the exclusive eyewear partner of Iris Apfel, as well as the Official Eyewear of the San Francisco 49ers, Boston Red Sox, Call of Duty League and the Chicago Bulls. Zenni has also previously partnered with actor and producer Rashida Jones, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, and eyewear designers Coco & Breezy on exclusive campaigns. For more information, please visit

PHOTO CREDIT: Iris X Zenni Zentennial collection, Photo by Ruven Afanador

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming, and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present, and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, and African art, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Thursdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays, 10 am–5 pm with late Fridays until 8 pm. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Members, youth 16 and under, and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Media Contact:
Whitney Van Dyke | Director of Communications | | 978-542-1828