Iris Apfel Launches Extinctions at Henri Bendel and Chats with TheWorkingWardrobe

by Kate Jacobsen | October 29th, 2012   

“Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.” This is one of my favorite fashion quotes by Edna Woolman Chase, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue from 1914 – 1952. My discovery of the quote prompted me to research Chase which led to my eventual intrigue with the woman.

edna woolman chase Iris Apfel Launches Extinctions at Henri Bendel and Chats with TheWorkingWardrobe

The fashion industry is at a crossroads: too many directions to go in and not even our fearless industry leaders know which way to go. Many of the styles and trends we follow are regurgitated representations of the past. And who do we look to for style inspiration? The ever-present fashion bloggers. Don’t get me wrong, I respect what bloggers have done for the fashion industry, which is to make the non-celebrities of the world style experts. However, someone like me needs inspiration that stems from more depth than what comes from a large Twitter presence. I need a style icon who has character and a history.

Which brings me back to Chase. She worked her way up from the mail room to become the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. She was a visionary who created the first-ever fashion show by featuring major department stores such as Henri Bendel and Bergdorf’s, as well as invited socialites such as the Astors and Rockefellers as commentators and attendees simply to generate revenue for the magazine. She kept the publication afloat during World War II despite naysayers’ doubts. She also believed in publishing the magazine for her readers instead of for the people she featured in it. Beyond amazing. As a farm girl growing up in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, her story inspires me and makes me truly believe that I too can make it in this industry no matter what my circumstances are or where I may begin.

Now there is another woman who comes to mind every time I hear this quote, though she has a plethora of her own inspirational style quotes that are note worthy. I categorize this particular woman as one of my sole style icons: Iris Apfel. Here is a woman who wore jeans before they were even available to women back in the 30′s. Apfel is a true individual following the trends of no one but herself. It’s refreshing to have someone to look up to in this industry whose style fame has come to her by her own accord and through her expression of style. Once again, as a girl who was made fun of for trying to dress outside of the box, I couldn’t find a better style mentor to model my own fashion career after.

Iris Apfel Iris Apfel Launches Extinctions at Henri Bendel and Chats with TheWorkingWardrobe

You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found out I was going to meet and even interview fashion’s ‘Rare Bird’ at the launch of her first-ever handbag line at Henri Bendel. Read below for my rare conversation with Iris Apfel as we briefly discuss the future of fashion, the rules of fashion (if indeed there are any) and her handbag collection, Extinctions.

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Extinctions Handbags by Iris Apfel

TheWorkingWardrobe: Can you tell me a little bit about your Extinctions handbag collection, your inspiration, the materials you used, and the color palette?

Iris Apfel: It’s kind of a funny story. My partner in this venture was making some bags for me for home shopping – I do an accessories line. The first bag she made was so fabulously constructed and so beautifully finished. They were also selling for under $100. I was just bombed out. I called her to express my awe and gratitude. She thanked me and credited her [craftsmanship] to her love and passion for what she does. She works in the old school. She said to me, “I told my staff at a meeting today that I am the last of an old breed.”

I said, “Baby if you’re the last of an old breed, then I must already be extinct.”

So we had a laugh. She then asked if I would ever consider doing a collection for her.

I said, “Gee that sounds like fun. I love it!” I then said, “You know what? We need a name. If you’re the last of an old breed and I’m already extinct, then let’s call the collection Extinctions.”

So we laughed, and I thought, “Oh my God that’s ridiculous. You can’t do a collection called that.”

I told a few people, and she told a few people. Everybody loved it, so we decided we’d do it.  We had a name, so now we needed a logo. When you say extinctions, what do you think of? Dinosaurs. So we started looking for an interesting dinosaur. We bought every book we could find that had pictures of dinosaurs. We couldn’t find one that was either pretty or sexy.  We both thought, “My God! What are we going to do?”

Shortly after I was having dinner with Alexis Bittar and a friend of his. The friend said to me, “Shame on you, you’re supposed to be the rare bird. What’s the matter with [...] the dodo?

I thought, “Wow that’s it!”

The dodo is so cute. You can take him off, take her off, or whatever she is. You can wear it on a chain or put it on a key chain. We like everything to be very practical. The handbags are very well-made and the prices are incredible.

TWW: What prompted the materials?

IA: I’m a Mongolian lamb freak. I was probably the first American who ever wore it. I found it in Paris in the early 70’s, and I brought it back. I had discovered it at Lanvin. It stopped traffic. My hair was dark gray then, pepper and salt. That was the color of the skin. I had a big funny hat. When I wore it you couldn’t tell where the outfit ended and where I began.

TWW: I write for a blog that focuses on work wear for women. I would love to hear the biggest changes you’ve seen in work wear over the years.

IA: It has become very chic. I was wearing jeans when you couldn’t even get them in the early 30’s. They didn’t have jeans for women then. I think these bags with jeans are sensational.

TWW: What is your take on fashion, street style, and social media? Where do you think fashion is going?

IA: Sometimes I think fashion is going to hell.

TWW: Where do you shop? I absolutely love everything you wear.

IA: Wherever I see something interesting. I have no one place. I don’t have too much time to shop. I have such a back log of stuff at home. I tend to get temperative once in awhile. I don’t need anything, so if I see something that knocks me out, then I’m buying it. It’s getting harder and harder because things are getting more homogenized.

TWW: When do you think you segued into being a style icon? When do you think that caught on allowing you to do projects like your amazing handbag line and documentary, etc?

IA: That all came to full fruition with my show at the Metropolitan Museum. Since then, I have become a geriatric starlit.

TWW: Is there anything else you would like to leave with our readers? Any style advice especially for working women?

IA: I think they should try to learn who they are and be themselves. I heard this quote the other day, and I think it’s wonderful. Style means you have a real curiosity about yourself and then you express it. Having style is not copying somebody else.

TWW: So you think that all those work wear rules should be thrown out the window?

IA: I don’t believe in rules. It’s different for everybody. Everyone has to make their own decision and find out what’s comfortable for them. If this outfit is ridiculous, then it’s not my concern.

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Me with the 'Rare Bird' herself, Iris Apfel

What an experience :Two women to fashion my career after, and one I actually got to meet in person. Thank you to Iris Apfel for being a true style inspiration and for giving a moment to myself and everyone else who came out to her handbag launch. From her personalized hand-written message on my swag bag to her genuine persona throughout the interview, meeting Iris was a truly humbling experience.

Be sure to snag one of her sensational bags from the Extinctions collection, which is being sold exclusively at select Henri Bendel stores. Also, be on the look-out for her upcoming documentary film and new shoe line with HSN in the near future.