October 16, 2012

“Fashion is not just fashion. You have to get out of it. If you’re just fashion, you’re going to be very boring. You have to be like a big sponge and sop up everything that you see and hear. Your soul has to be fed.” -Iris Apfel

We all should dress more like Iris Apfel. Solo subject of the annual Met Costume Institute exhibition in 2005, Apfel is a 91 year-old American style maverick and businesswoman who dresses like no other, and foremost for herself.

Iris claims no style icons, picks up trends only when they suit her, and gets dressed everyday for fun. Her look is so iconic and so abundant—bagel-round spectacles, bright hues, metres of jewelry—her look is her. That’s not reducing her in any way. Apfel’s look is substantial: historically aware, culturally sensitive, and an expression of a life philosophy: “Life is short and life is grey and you can so easily dress yourself up, make yourself happy, and then make other people happy,” she says.

This past Friday, Iris Apfel courted family, friends and press at Henri Bendel for the launch her new handbag line, Extinctions. The bags are ’70s jewel-tone bright and made from Mongolian lamb, calf hair, and snakeskin. Iris was wearing the rusty orange Mongolian bucket crossbody over an Oscar de la Renta jacket with, she shows me, the most intricate interior weave.

The Iris Met exhibit was called Rara Avis; she’s fashion’s rare bird. Her handbag line, suitably, adopts the Dodo as logo. And the name Extinctions? Iris tells me the story. She was admiring the craftsmanship of some bags a woman she knows was making: “I was just knocked out. They were so beautifully made and so well executed for the price. The interior was made like a $3000 bag.” She said that, “Yes, I work very hard at that and I’m very fussy about what I do. I’m very old school and I feel like I’m the end of an old breed” So I said, “If you’re the end of an old breed, I must already be extinct.” The collaboration precipitated from that conversation.

We like to coo over Iris, the rare bird. Her fans at Bendel gushed over every detail of the bags (“that interior!”) and laughed at every smart style pronouncement the pedestaled icon made. I was aflutter. Second best part of the evening (a second far behind the honor of meeting the inspiration IRL): I have officially solved my Halloween costume quandary.

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