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Fashion Design | Iris Barrel Apfel

The Art of Iris Barrel Apfel

By Nellie Ridell
December 4, 2008
Iris Barrel Apfel is a truely original designer, because her idiosyncratic style rises above time and place, as a part of the natural cycle, which has the power to bring us back in time. 
Iris Barrel Apfel Design
Iris Barrel Apfel Design

Fashion movements come and go and designs change every season, but once in a while a designer masters the art of reviving the past and gives her distinctive wisdom to the character of an era. Iris Barrel Apfel, a truly original, who thrived in the colossal fashion industry inspite of and because of her idiosyncratic style, understood at a young age that fashion gave testimony to individualism.

Apfel has had a dramatic influence on virtually all the players in fashion, and her life journey has been evocative and sensuous, romantic and wild.

Growing up around the New York fashion industry, she has been hip for most of her 84 years, ever since she began mixing high and low, old and new, whimsy and elegance, at the age of sixteen, shopping at the 26th Street Flea Market, Sixth Avenue Annex Fair, and Brooklyn Flea Market, for beads, head scarves, and antique fabrics.

With extraordinary flamboyance and sensitivity, she went on to infuse fashion with art, combining harmonious arrangements of color, motif, and texture, with the splendid possibilities of antique silks, taffetas, tribal fabrics, and handwork, layered in no particular combinations of beads, drapings, elaborate scarves, raw silks, and Zuni silver jewelry, a free and loose collection of contrasts, complementaries, cultures, and time periods.

Her gift to look gracefully sophisticated is noticeable even now, working and traveling in a pair of men's jeans, with her much loved accessories, Apfel always looks hip, modern, and classic, with never a suggestion of conformity.

Coco Chanel said “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only; fashion is something in the air. It's the wind that blows in the new fashion; you feel it coming, you smell it in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

Clothes and jewelry express the full range of learned human behavioral patterns, and the infusion of fashion with art conveys individualism in whatever we wear on a day-to-day basis.

As the essence of personal artistry, it reveals a powerful interconnection with the archetypes of symbol, language, art, and the complex patterns of change. It may be visualized as a means of centering the self, the consequence of many years of careful thought, or it can come in a little foolish flash.

For Iris Barrel Apfel it comes as an old pair of jeans, a strand of knotted glass beads of many delicate reds and greens, and a silk lace head shawl.

Learning fashion from one’s elders is not an option for most of us, but the Apfel aesthetic is a testimony to the art of reviving the past and the tradition of creativity.

Understanding fashion in art requires a certain amount of ignoring the latest trend and a forgetting of preconceived notions. The art of Iris Barrel Apfel rises above time and place, as a part of the natural cycle, which has the power to bring us back in time.

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