Iris Apfel just unveiled a highly unconventional holiday tree inspired by her one-of-a-kind style.
The fashion icon dreamed up this year’s surfboard tree for The Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, though it may take a Christmas miracle to get the 101-year-old designer on a surfboard.
“I think my days as a potential surfer have passed, but never say never!” Apfel, bedecked in layers of necklaces and pink feathers, told PEOPLE before Thursday night’s debut of her design for the tree, which is made entirely of colorful surfboards.
Apfel, who lives seasonally in the Florida city, was inspired to design the tree by her own personal style. She’s a proud “maximalist at heart,” so it was important for the holiday tree to embody her outlook on design.
“My design style is ever-evolving yet unwavering in the sense that I have always chosen to go bigger, brighter and bolder than anyone would expect,” Apfel says. “Each artist or designer before me has put their own spin on the tree, but until this year, the tree was only made of surfboards and didn’t feature any additions or embellishments.”
Since she believes that accessorizing is key to creating a “wow” factor, her approach was to add a pair of her signature oversized round glasses as well as turquoise necklaces to the tree. (And of course, she added some fun designs to the surfboards.)
She used multiple shades of pink to create the lenses in the glasses since she has always viewed her life through rose-colored glasses. “I encourage others to do the same,” she says. “And the turquoise necklaces add a pop of color which really brings the tree to life. I love the combination of colors—perfect for the holiday season in Palm Beach.”
Over the years, Apfel’s obsession with color, patterns and texture combined with her maximalist vision in accessorizing has made her an international style icon. Her large round glasses with bulky costume jewelry and wildly printed garments are always show-stoppers, and were on display at her tree’s debut.
Visitors who gathered at the Royal Poinciana Plaza for the tree’s unveiling were encouraged to dress colorfully like Apfel to get in the spirit of her Christmas tree design.
Cora Cooke, 6, wearing oversized Apfel glasses, a red dress and lots of long necklaces, loves the tree. “I like the Iris tree because I learned to surf last summer, and my favorite color is pink!” she tells PEOPLE.
Models for Alice + Olivia and Marissa Collections located in the shopping plaza hosted runway shows during the tree launch event with models dressed in Apfel-inspired designs of bold colors, playful accessories. Other retailers highlighted their windows with Apfel’s signature looks.
“When I grow up, I want to be Iris Apfel,” Samantha David, President of WS Development, the company that owns the Royal Poinciana Plaza, tells PEOPLE. “She is a creative genius who embodies the best of fashion—always fun and fabulous and never taking herself too seriously.”
In 2005, at age 84, Apfel became a national sensation after the Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed her closet archives filled with colorful, bold and eclectic designs from years of international travel. While in the textile industry with her late husband Carl, she reproduced historic fabrics in private quarters and public rooms for nine White Houses, including presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
Since then, she has designed and appeared in campaigns for companies across the board from beauty to interiors to fashion. Earlier this year, she created a line of clothing for H&M, telling PEOPLE at the time that her designs were “playful and festive and so much fun.”
For the holidays, Apfel had a blast designing the surfboard tree and was excited to see it come to life. Even though she chose the colors and design elements, it was an unforgettable moment when she saw the finished product in lights. “I had so much fun designing the tree because it is different from anything I have ever done,” she tells PEOPLE minutes after the lighting. “It looks wonderful and is amazing that it only took me 100 years to do it!”