Iris Apfel became a mega-star of American fashion when she was over 80. You might call her style “over-the-top”, but it is undeniable: Iris has Style.
If your are in the camp of those who think that Iris’ taste is over-the-top, look though ethnographic photos of the late 19th-early 20th century from the different parts of the world. The folk clothes are of bright colors with elaborate headdresses and sizable jewelry. Iris did not invent her style in vacuum: she borrowed and synthesized what she saw.
Her outfits look odd to us because we have become Chanelized.
Our clothes is a sea of black and white, with some beige, burgundy, gray, navy and inoffensive pastels. Dull prints galore. Here and there small splashes of bright scarves meekly break the visual monotony.
Perhaps, the most of modern women do not even know what their favorite colors are.
Iris Apfel was never afraid of a bright color or a bold shape. In fact, as she grew older, she cared even less what people think of her style. She liked what she liked and she wore it.
Such freedom did not appear out of nowhere. Iris grew up with the mother who “worshiped at the altar of accessory”. As a young woman she tried her hand in interior decorating. The rest of her working life Iris and her husband of some 70 years ran the textile business, which specialized in reproduction of rare and antique fabrics. That’s substantial education in cloth and fashion.
Iris loves dressing up like very few women in our modern world care or dare. She quipped that dressing up was frequently the only fun part about going to parties.
The closets in her New York apartment were bigger than a bedroom in an average house. Iris had hard times partying with her finery. Many of her outfits were custom made, like a tiger-print set on the photo below, many are one-of-a-kind fight of fancy by fashion designers.
The habit of hoarding turned out to be a good thing, after all.
Several years ago Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was preparing the exhibition of some famous fashion designer, but it fell through. Another exhibition had to fill the slot and on a very short notice. The Museum asked Iris Apfel whether she was willing to put her outfits on display. She agreed. The exhibition was a hit.
The rare bird of fashion spread her wings.
There are several underlying themes in Iris’ work. First, she teaches the importance of personal style. Second, she advocates on behalf of the women of a certain age and beyond in the youth-centered world of fashion. Third, our modern clothes are works of art fit for museum exhibitions. Textile exhibitions should not be only about historic costumes (clothes that nobody wears any more) or artwear (clothes that nobody is physically able to wear) .
In this post I published several pictures from the exhibit in the new wing Fashion and Design that opened in Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA in September 2019.
Alice Apfel was an active participant of this project.
More about Iris Apfel
There is an excellent documentary about her ( Iris ). Trailer on Youtube.
At least three books have been published since her success in Metropolitan Museum, one of them is a lavish catalog of her earlier exhibition in PEM appropriately called Rare Bird of Fashion.