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Celebrating Iris Apfel’s 95th Birthday

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There are parties…and then there are PARTIES. This, though, was not a big bash but a small, intimate dinner at our home with fashion icon Iris Apfel on her 95th birthday. It became one of the most memorable weekends of my life. How did this come to be?

When planning our Atelier Swarovski show I learned that Iris, a close friend of Russell Pagliughi (Director of Sales) had never, but always wanted to see Newport. Of course I extended an invitation, and then was thrilled to learn that she would love to stay at Parterre for the weekend. So I put on my hostess hat and shifted into high-gear planning mode. Iris enjoys dining on local fare, so my research began with a favorite reference, Clementine Paddleford’s The Great American Cookbook.


Then, my first call was to the cake designer…wonderful James Kennedy, who had, coincidentally, just been watching Iris’ documentary the week before my call.

Designing the Cake

Simple, fun, whimsical, tongue in cheek (one doesn’t take things too seriously when you’re ninety-five). What else could it be? A stack of bracelets atop a small, high round cake. But it couldn’t be just a yellow four-layer cake filled with Italian buttercream frosting –so I decided to personalize it a bit more by wrapping it in one of Old World Weaver’s toile fabrics (Iris’ favorites). One King’s Lane had a swatch of “Decouvert” in the perfect colors — a russet coral pattern over a deep marigold background. Off to James

Note: The toile is printed with edible inks on a tissue paper thin sheet of fondant and cut to size to wrap the cake.

Photo Credit: Kennedy Confections

The individual bracelets were made of James’ special formula of edible sugar clay gum paste. Each cradled in bubble wrap, the bracelets were  carefully unwrapped and arranged atop the cake when he brought it over at six o’clock Saturday evening.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography


Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Dressing the Table

Iris loves textiles and her eponymous fabric firm, Old World Weavers (which she and Carl started in 1950) was famous as a go to source for the White House as well as private homes and house museums internationally. This seemed the perfect opportunity to use my Japanese obi panels, providing a touch of the exotic.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Paired with a French ormolu pedestal holding a collection of dahlias which repeated in colors and shape the flowers in the obi…and the bracelets on her cake. Venetian wine goblets and gold striped water glasses continued the understated theme.


All set, now off to greet the caterer…


With one stop to look at my favorite late afternoon view — the sun reflecting off the fountain’s plume.


Setting the Scene

This evening just had to have a setting as magical as the occasion…our Orangerie in the center of the garden. But the weather — sticky humidity and always a chance of rain — kept me on pins and needles. Finally, I took a deep breath and started prepping this small space to become a jewel box, shimmering at night.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Love the reflection of the votives on the glass roof, which can be partially opened.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Dinner at eight…and this is what greeted us as we approached at twilight after cocktails in the library.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Planning the Menu

One note that will give you a sense of Iris and her enthusiasm for life is her desire to eat the fresh and seasonal cuisine of the region that she is visiting. For a Newport menu, that would include inspiration from the Portugese and Native American cultures, with of course, local bounty from the sea. Kim Comfort, thank you for your good taste!


Hors d’Oeuvres
Lobster Salad on Potato Crisps
Littleneck Clam with Ginger-Mint Pesto atop a Corn Pancake

First Course
Grilled, Seasoned Cod Fish Patties served over a Charred Corn Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Palate Refresher
Yellow Pepper Soup with a pinch of Turmeric in Demitasse Cups

Second Course
Scallops Mozambique
Seared Sea Scallops with a Saffron-Garlic Butter Sauce served over a Tangle of Swiss Chard and Seasoned rice

Let the party begin!

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Flattering candlelight, good wines, inspired menu, laughter and stories…and convivial guests who each have a great affection for Iris.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Happy Birthday, Iris!

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

No surprise, Iris was fascinated with the bracelets, taking them with her when she departed for New York on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom Photography

Look for our next blog on Iris out and about in Newport as well as my one-on-one chat with her!

Featured Image Credit, Maaike Bernstrom Photography.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

17 thoughts on “Celebrating Iris Apfel’s 95th Birthday

  1. This is a dream! What a fabulous fete you threw for Iris! The cake is simply stunning and what more could a person dream than a party in your gardens. You truly are the ultimate hostess.



  2. I just watched Iris’ documentary and am so jealous. Your dinner and amazing cake are sheer perfection. So jealous!

  3. Bettie, This is absolutely spectacular! Thanks so much for the entertaining inspiration in every post you make…but this party and post especially fabulous! And Happy Birthday Iris…what a wonderful way to be celebrated!

  4. This was over the top, Bettie! The cake was amazing! Loved Dahlias shown this way. Often their little faces are drooping down! Obies down the center of the table. I’m inspired! What an evening!

    Debby Taylor Smith

  5. What a beautiful gift you gave to Iris, Bettie. Absolutely beautiful.
    And look at that cake! How fun.
    Blessings to you.

  6. She looks great and I am sure she had fun. Glad she got her visit to Newport crossed off her bucket list. I just watched the documentary last weekend.She is one of a kind.

  7. This was the very best! Perfection in every detail. Especially loved the cake and the dahlias.
    This should be published in Flower Magazine or Veranda, or……?

  8. As usual! Brilliant ideas, design concepts and inspiration! Bettie you never cease to amaze me!
    The Gazbo, the textiles, the Menu! That cake !! What research and planning and how brilliant that Iris took the bracelets home..wouldn’t be surprised if she wears them… Man, you are one tough act to follow…except I couldn’t follow you if I tried…but I will sit at your feet and try to learn! Xxx Jane

  9. I had the pleasure of meeting Iris at the Cartier Grand Reopening in New York. I introduced myself by wishing her a happy birthday and that I follow your blog. She was so gracious. As a design lover I would have loved to have talked to her for hours. How lucky for you to have that opportunity! I so enjoyed reading about your time with her!

    1. Thanks so much for passing this along. Isn’t she just the best, so gracious, kind and gentle. So glad you went up and said hello. Cheers!

  10. Absolutely fabulous. One couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a 95th (or any) birthday. Every detail was flawless. Thank you for sharing with us.

    I just recently discovered your wonderful blog and eagerly await your next.

    1. Welcome,So happy to have you part of the Private Newport family!It would have been a shame to have missed Iris…

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