Thursday, November 17, 2005


Photo: Lanvin courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Does anyone actually question whether Iris Barrel Apfel's colorful, individual, and eccentric style, which is the focus of the current exhibit at the Met's Costume Institute, 'Rara Avis', and the cover story of Thursday's 'Style' section of The New York Times, ("What Iris Wore: A Style Original", by Ruth La Ferla) will be an influence on the upcoming fall 2006 collections?

I was inspired to walk through the exhibit again yesterday, and thought the lower level galleries that comprise the Costume Institute seemed rather crowded for a Thursday afternoon and wondered if the attention given to it by The New York Times was partly responsible. I asked a security guard if he thought it was more crowded than usual and he said, "yes - particuarly this afternoon".

I was particuarly amused by the conversations that went on between the visitors ('lay' people, not involved in the fashion business) who by and large, were overwhelmed by the sheer creativity, verve, and amount of clothing and accessories on display, with many seeming to have a hard time believing Mrs. Apfel actually wore these outfits out - or anywhere. Some obviously ignored the designer's names identifying each look and asked each other if she perhaps designed them herself .

I thought it would be timely to reprint my initial thoughts about the subject following Bill Cunningham's 'On the Street' homage, Sunday, October 2.

(DFR Report from Monday, October 03, 2005)

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Yesterday’s ‘On the Street’ column, “In her Image” by Bill Cunningham, which was devoted entirely to the exuberant, colorful, joyful, expressive, and highly personal style of Iris Barrel Apfel, exemplifies the phrase, “A Picture is worth a thousand words”. Though in this case, it’s ‘pictures’. It spoke volumes about the meaning of true personal style (as opposed to that which is manufactured and predicated on robotically chasing the trends du jour), and it could not have been more perfectly timed, being that the month long spring 2006 shows are winding down in the city of Paris this week and the fashion world is mulling over what will be ‘trendy’, ‘new’, and ‘hot’ for the coming season.

With one quick glance at these pages, an homage to a woman who is also the subject of the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute ("Rara Avis"), which illustrates the "power of dress and accessories to assert style above fashion, the individual above the collective", as described by the Museum, you see a style that is built on a wonderful, keen and knowing eye, an innately confident sense, an ability to mix high and low (which she did long before the fashion world spoke about it), and most importantly, added wit and whimsy.

Mrs. Apfel’s collection of clothing and accessories transcends seasonal vagaries of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ and have more to do with what’s always fabulous than what’s NEW right now. It’s apparent she didn’t take too seriously the admonition of magazine editorials or store ads to pare down when stark minimalism took over in the 90’s (I doubt she would have even considered consider putting her fabulous statement making accessories in storage), and looking at her red head to toe ensemble (which she was photographed in as she walked around the exhibit), she is obviously not giving too much thought to the recent decreeing that black from head to toe is now the way to go. By the way, it also proves that red always stands out in a crowd.

This portfolio defines the notion ‘Youth is wasted on the young’. There is absolutely nothing subtle, dainty, or old fashioned about the ageless Ms. Apfel (not her colors, her proportions, or her accessories - including her oversized reading glasses); on the contrary, her rule breaking look defies conventional notions of what one ‘should’ wear as one ages. I would suggest that all those so called style mavens and image consultants who are paid to give women direction, and who would probably argue that at a certain age, you should ‘act your age’, fade into the background, tone it all down a notch, and wear a lot of neutrals (like beige), take a long look at these images, or better yet, get yourself over to the Costume Institute and walk around these inspirational displays. (The exhibit runs through January 22nd.)

By the way, speaking of ageless, the same can also be said of Bill Cunningham, who has more energy, stamina, and curiosity than almost anyone (regardless of age) and whose brilliance lies not only his finely tuned and well educated eye, but in the perfect timing of his columns.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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