Published: February 6, 2007
The Norton Museum of Art pays tribute to one of America’s — and Palm Beach’s — quintessential style icons with the exhibition “Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel,” on view February 25–May 27.
Assembled from the personal wardrobe of Apfel, the exhibition is a rare look at a fashion arbiter known for the idiosyncratic ensembles that mix high and low fashion, from haute couture to flea market finds. The installation showcases Apfel’s exuberant and eccentric style, largely based on her individual aesthetics and inspired by her personal environment, her working life in New York City, her home life in Palm Beach and from travels around the world.
The exhibition is divided into five thematic sections containing a total of 82 “fashion statements” in the form of costume, with cases of jewelry and accessories surrounding the main installation. The costumes in each section relate aesthetically to the suggested environments — five tableaux vivants representing aspects of Apfel’s own life and experience, such as afternoon tea at a Moroccan souk. It is a journey through a unique and interesting life narrated by Apfel herself and accompanied by the music that inspired her, from exotic tribal beats to American jazz standards.
This exhibition was originally organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has been adapted for the Norton and expanded with a new introductory installation designed to set the mood as the viewer journeys into the exhibition. Throughout the exhibition, contextual and historical elements reference the life of Iris Apfel and her husband, Carl, with not only the ensembles and accessories, but also with photographs and text.
Known for her fearless style, Apfel is considered to be one of the most vivacious personalities in the worlds of fashion, textiles and interior design. It all began in 1940 when Apfel started wearing men’s jeans — tailored to fit, as women’s jeans did not exist yet. After attending college in Wisconsin and returning to New York to be an interior designer, she and her husband founded Old World Weavers, an international textile manufacturing company. The exquisite workmanship and intricate designs attracted the sophisticated tastes of the likes of Greta Garbo, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Estée Lauder.
The couple sold the company to Stark Carpet 14 years ago, but remain consultants. Apfel has also consulted on numerous restoration projects, including the White House.
“Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel” will be accompanied by a companion book published by Thames & Hudson, created by photographer Eric Boman.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Roger Ward, chairman of the curatorial department, will lead a discussion with Apfel and Michael Vollbracht about design, fashion and the power of dress on Thursday, March 15, and Friday, March 16.
After graduating from the Parsons School of Design, Vollbracht entered the fashion world as a designer and illustrator. He started his own label for hand printed silks and is known for his Michael V Swimwear line. After his friend Bill Blass died in 2002, Vollbracht was appointed artistic director of the house of Bill Blass.
The Norton Museum of Art is at 1451 South Olive Avenue. For information, 561-832-5196 or www.norton.org.
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