Sue Meller

Meghan McGowan and Kelsey Barajas chat with visiting professor Iris Apfel. 

Photo Credit: Kelsey Barajas | Daily Texan Staff

Iris Apfel, the 93-year-old “Rare Bird of Fashion,” has held many honors to this day: an exhibit dedicated to her style at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, her own line of clothes on the Home Shopping Network, a fashion spread for Italian Vogue and advertising campaigns for Coach and Kate Spade. She has been the face of MAC Cosmetics and is the subject of an Albert Maysles documentary. Apfel is also a visiting professor at UT, a title she holds dear. 

Each year, 15 students dedicated to the fashion industry are chosen for the School of Human Ecology’s UT in NYC course that takes place every May. 

Under the direction of Nancy Prideaux, the program coordinator and a senior lecturer in the Textiles and Apparel Department, selected students thoroughly research industry leaders and events. Then they meet with Apfel in New York City for a number of company visits. This unique opportunity allows students to take their classroom to the heart of the fashion industry and learn from firsthand experience.

The UT in NYC program is unparalleled. While many universities with fashion-related programs take trips to New York City to explore the industry, none are led by an industry icon as notable as Apfel. Apfel opens doors to the likes of J. Crew, Bergdorf Goodman, Kate Spade and Alexis Bittar — retailers, designers, public relations firms and more with a lot of prestige in the industry. 

Students are selected for the program through a competitive application, which includes an interview and faculty recommendations. The program itself seeks to incorporate students from varied backgrounds and experiences to participate in a robust exchange of ideas with each other and industry members.

When Sue Meller, BA ’75 and member of the school advisory council, visited the Met-debuted “Rare Bird of Fashion” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Boston, she was unaware of the series of events that would unfold. 

During her visit, she commented to a docent that the exhibit would be a wonderful experience for UT students. To her surprise, she received a call from Apfel herself soon after, curious about our school. Apfel felt a true connection to UT, commenting that other schools didn’t seem to be as interested in their students. Notable faculty, including former College of Natural Sciences Dean Mary Ann Rankin and others from the School of Human Ecology, met with Apfel in New York City over dinner in December 2010. Then, with the oversight of Prideaux, the course was born, and the first UT in NYC course occurred five months later.

The trip to New York City is a treasured networking experience for the students, who connect with industry professionals and all textiles-apparel grads in the city at an alumni event at the trip’s culmination. 

Supply chain management senior Meghan McGowan attests to how the trip shaped her career: “It’s invaluable to hear from leading professional influences — hearing their stories and the different experiences they have in their toolbox that got them to where they are today.” 

Apfel’s star power certainly isn’t lost on her students or Prideaux. Merchandising senior Kelsey Cowan Barajas believes visiting professor Apfel has had a huge impact on industry executives because she is “not afraid to be uncompromisingly herself or speak her mind.” 

As the faculty member who has worked with her to develop this program, Prideaux describes it as “‘truly a once in a lifetime experience to be in the presence of a creative genius and most astute businesswoman.’” 

Apfel began her career at Women’s Wear Daily and founded Old World Weavers, a textile mill, with her husband Carl Apfel. The textile mill produces replicas of historical textiles, many of which have been enlisted for the White House.

The UT in NYC course has truly influenced the Textiles-Apparel Program and elevated it to compete with other programs nationally. The University’s experience with Apfel allowed it to become a member of the YMA Fashion Scholarships Fund organization. The camera crew for Albert Maysles’ documentary “Iris” — set to be released April 29 — filmed portions of the first UT in NYC course during the students’ time with Apfel in New York City. 

Apfel will be in Dallas for the launch of her documentary at the USA Film Festival later this month. The documentary has received critically acclaimed reviews and is set for private viewings in New York and other venues. We are fortunate to have the support of a fashion icon with so much wisdom, clout and exuberance under her belt. The guidance of visiting professor Apfel provides students the encouragement and enthusiasm to follow her lead in this competitive industry.

Patel is a business honors, finance and textiles and apparel junior from Sugar Land.