Made in New York: Fashion Icon Iris Apfel
Article by Jenny Bahn

The chunky bangles, the loud prints, the black frame glasses the size of tea saucers. Somehow, the more Iris Apfel puts on, the more distinctly she appears. While others would seem to fade into the background of similar sartorial choices, Apfel only comes more acutely to the front. She is in full command of her style, a woman who wears her clothes playfully but with conviction. This is what she likes, and to hell with all the rest.

It is this cavalier attitude towards staid norms and unimaginative trends that has helped secure her place among fashion’s greatest icons. Apfel, after establishing herself as a textile designer and notable figure in society circles, became something of an “It Girl” well into her eighties. The Met Museum’s 2005 exhibition, Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection, put some of her most creative ensembles on display, her tiger prints and feathered coats living under the same roof as “Portrait of Madame X” and “Death of Socrates.” If fashion is capable of reaching the heights of art, as the exhibition’s thesis would argue, Apfel was, and remains, one of its masters.

While Apfel’s look is without doubt inimitable, she happily offers pages from her playbook. (“Taste you can learn,” she once remarked, “but style is like charisma. You know it when you see it.”) In addition to Apfel’s Rara Avis jewelry collection, she moonlights as a creative collaborator with those looking to harness the power of her unique eye.

Most recently, Apfel teamed up with Atelier Swarovski for Just Iris, a collection that marries her penchant for the daring with the famed house’s unparalleled expertise in crystal. The result is a series that is as elegant as it is ripe with whimsy, where subdued gray is balanced with glitter, where matte surfaces explode with pops of pearls in black and scarabaeus green. Each piece worn on its own is a statement in itself, though, knowing Apfel, she’ll be piling one on top of another, transforming herself, as she so often does, into the most rare of birds.

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