All Eyes On Iris Apfel: A Night of Books, Barbie and Bergdorf’s

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Tiffany Sage/
Saturday, March 17, 2018

On Thursday night, Bergdorf Goodman hosted a party for the 96-year-old tastemaker Iris Apfel to celebrate her new book, Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon (Harper Design). Walking into the store, it’s hard to miss the store’s sumptuous windows. Each one down the row on 5th and 58th—daring and full of color—encapsulates Apfel’s joi de vivre. She dressed each look: a mashup of furs, sequins and jewels galore set against themed backdrops dreamed up by David Hoey, Bergdorf’s senior director of visual presentation.

Like the famous Iris saying: “More is more and less is a bore.”

“When I saw the windows, I felt like Alice after downing a bottle of ‘Drink Me’ and having fallen through a fashionable rabbit hole!” says Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s fashion director, who collaborated with Apfel to curate a pop-up shop on the store’s third floor. “I don’t want to make anyone jealous, but working with the legendary Iris was a ‘pinch me’ opportunity. We had complete access to her closet, her apartment and most of all, her essence.”

Fargo adds, “She doesn’t use a computer. She doesn’t have an assistant or even use a calendar from what I can tell, yet she never misses an appointment or a commitment scheduled months out! She’s equally meticulous and a step ahead of the rest of us with all the product development, asking if so and so got back to us or fussing over the shade of Mongolian for a pillow.”

Over hot dogs and martinis, party guests lined up for a moment in the spotlight with Apfel, who brought along a special guest: her very own Barbie. That’s right, Mattel recently created a one-of-a-kind doll modeled after the nonagenarian New Yorker.

Offerings in the space ranged from designer clothing and exotic baubles to vintage goods from Apfel’s personal collection. There’s also the Edward Bess custom red lipstick and Alain Mikli oversized, thick round-rim glasses that epitomize Apfel’s signature style.

The self-proclaimed ‘geriatric starlet’ has had a love affair with glasses long before she even needed them for sight. She tells AVENUE one of the many stories shared in her book: “As I was growing up, I was always fascinated by spectacles. Whenever I saw them at a flea market or yard sale, I would buy them and put them away in a shoe box. Periodically, I’d take them out to wear just for fun. When I really did need glasses, I had lenses put into the biggest pair I could find. People used to stare at me and say ‘Why do you wear them so large?’ I got annoyed with the stupid question so I finally said, ‘The bigger to see you with, my dear!’ and that shut them up.”

The book also contains anecdotes from the author’s childhood to present, personal photographs and the story how she came to be an “Accidental Icon.” See, Apfel didn’t become an “it” girl until 2005, well into her eighties, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featured an exhibition featuring 40 pieces from her personal wardrobe. Titled, “Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection”, the public display was used as a replacement for one that fell through at the last minute. The exposure catapulted Apfel to recognition in the fashion world when she was previously mainly known in interior design circles. 

Apfel worked for WWD and for interior designer Elinor Johnson before launching the textile firm Old World Weavers with her late husband, Carl Apfel. When asked how she feels about being an inspiration to so many, she says, “I’m not consciously a role model. People want to say I am and that’s nice—I hope I’m doing a good job but I’m not here to teach or preach. I like people to dress well and look well but they should find out who they are to express their own individuality rather than live vicariously through others. That’s what real style is all about.”

Besides traveling between homes in New York and Palm Beach, Apfel has a full plate of projects. “I’m always doing something else,” she notes. To name just one, she’s continuing to design her collection of quirky clothes and accessories for the Home Shopping Network.

Over in one section of Bergdorf’s, a guest stops in his tracks to admire a crimson red skirt on a mannequin by Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet. It has an embellished beaded and silk motif of Iris holding a glass of wine. “When they start making clothes with your portrait on it…” he says, “You know you’ve made it.”


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