Mid Winter’s Night Dream

Last week I had the pleasure of conducting a video taped interview with style iconoclast and true fashion original Iris Barrel Apfel (the subject of Rara Avis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute) for our Master of Fashion Series (made possible by our sponsor, Fashion GPS) which will be up and running in about one week. I asked Ralph Rucci, who has known her for about 3 or 4 years (they first met at the Adrian exhibit at the Costume Institute though Iris had been wearing his designs long before) to comment on this special woman.

He was quick to note that paradoxically “she’s interested in the new, yet entrenched in tradition”, she’s “unpretentious and totally non judgmental” and “she and Carl (her husband of almost 48 years) make you feel comfortable and cozy as if you’ve known them your whole life”. He also observed, “You really get what love’s about with them”. Naturally, the conversation I had with Iris kept going back to the relationship between fashion, textiles, and home décor. I say “naturally”, because as everyone must know by know, Iris and Carl, founded Old World Weavers about 50 years ago, the legendary textile and interior design company, which claimed some of the most prominent clients in the world.

That there is a long and storied relationship between how one chooses to cover one’s body and how one decorates one’s home, cannot be denied and I have long believed that in order to qualify as truly stylish, one can’t just think about looking good on the outside but by definition, must have a corresponding home environment (whatever that might be). By the way, this is exempflied by Mrs. Apfel, whose apartment, with is colorful, eclectic, highly personal, exuberant and expressive style, (filled in every corner with witty juxtapositions of high/ low and global references), perfectly reflects and mirrors her fashion sense. In fact, it’s hard to tell where the fashion ends and the interior décor begins (and visa versa). It’s all one consistent, cohesive, and continuous visage.

Need more proof of this relationship? The 52nd Annual Winter Antique Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory (http://www.winterantiqueshow.com), a benefit for East Side House Settlement in the South Bronx and the granddaddy of all antique shows which still sets the standard, is chaired by Chanel’s Arie L. Kopelman, it’s Opening Night Party (held on Thursday, January 19th) was sponsored by Elle Décor Magazine, and the Young Collectors’ Night (to be held on Thursday, January 26th) is sponsored by Reed Krakoff for Coach.

I had the privilege of attending the Opening Night Party, and of course, this highly anticipated and always well attended event lived up to its expectations- a class act all the way (it didn’t hurt that the highly professional company, La Force & Stevens, was enlisted to handle public relations). Even the weather cooperated. Talk about global warming… you know something’s going on with the weather, when the Opening Night Party of the Winter Antique Show, which almost always falls on the COLDEST evening in January, is met instead, with delightful, almost balmy temperatures. And when you factor in the sheer number of attendees, lets just say that things really heated up inside. This of course, did not stop the stubborn fashion die hards from leaving on their fur trimmed jackets, small fur pieces, big fur coats, or fur boas (one must suffer for fashion, no? Well, actually, no…but that’s another story).

And talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the party had it all: museum quality collectibles of all kinds, great food, great champagne and wine, and of course, great people watching: everyone from George Washington (well okay, a GW look a like- there was a special loan exhibition of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the costume clad gent was manning the booth), to a cross dresser in a vintage black cocktail dress from the 50’s paired with a fuchsia wig, and everything in between. Rubbing elbows in the crowded aisles were elegant and fashionable collectors (like Aerin Lauder, Jamee Gregory, CeCe Cord, Nina Griscom, Somers Farkas, Bettina Zilka, Amy Fine Collins), domestic diva Martha Stewart, fashion veterans (Helen O’Hagan, Kasper), and designers- Richard Lambertson, B. Michael, and Mr. Lauren. (Well, okay, so it wasn’t Ralph but older brother Jerry with whom Ralph founded Polo Fashions decades ago and who is now head of Polo Menswear). Jerry Lauren, bedecked in an elegant and signature Ralph Lauren pinstripe suit was accompanied by wife Susan, who was dressed in a chic and sleek black Ralph Lauren skirt suit from 2005.

He admitted to me that they are in the throws of putting finishing touches on the men’s fall 2006 collection, having just left brother Ralph back in the offices in order to come to the opening night party. When I tried to pry some information from him on what Ralph is planning for his upcoming women’s collection, he was tightlipped but when I brought up the name of Iris Apfel, Jerry confirmed that Ralph was completely taken with the ‘Rara Avis’ exhibit at the Met (which he recently saw with a group of his designers in tow). In fact, Iris told me a few days prior that Ralph even offered her a job on the spot (though she assumed he was kidding) and was blown away by how ‘freeing’ the exhibit was for him. It did not go unnoticed for me, that Ralph’s last collection, for spring 2006, was dubbed ‘freewheeling’ so I guess you can say that Ralph is in a ‘freewheeling’, ‘free- spirited’ mood. You can bet the zany, eccentric, eclectic, global aesthetic of Iris Apfel will be very much on view when he unveils his women’s collection in February, as has been widely speculated.

Speaking about fashion, admittedly, most of the extremely well heeled guests I saw were conservatively dressed in suits, black dresses, or simple separates (this was after all, not a fashion party), but there were some creative types, including one woman wearing a graphic black and white Issey Miyake top, and another wearing a jaw droppingly enormous and bold Coppolo e Toppo silver leaf collar I had recognized from Doyle New York’s Couture and Textile auction this past November. She confirmed that she bid far more than she intended to, but really wanted it, and more importantly, wanted to outbid another woman. Boy, she was not kidding. The catalogue estimated it would go for $2500 to $3500, and it sold for $16,000!

When pondering what to wear for the event (an antique show at an armory), I decided the perfect and most appropriate thing to don was my grommeted vintage coat that resembles a coat of armor. When I bought it at a vintage show, the dealer only said that it was a military costume but had no other information. I hoped that this event would be the place to find someone (a dealer or customer) with more knowledge as to its lineage. Alas, that didn’t really happen, though one attendee suggested that it was from the Knights of the Roundtable, while a dealer thought it was Shakespearean. What I hadn’t counted on was that there would be a booth (London based Peter Finer, www.peterfiner.com) entirely devoted to exceptional pieces of European arms and armor, in which I felt quite at home (I actually looked like I belonged) and which certainly made for some interesting conversations and photo ops.

If I have any complaint about the evening, it’s that I wish the handsome and large Wathne umbrellas with wood handles, which were given out to all guests as they left the Armory, were available in any other color than royal blue. But as they say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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