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RARA AVIS: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection

Start Date 13 September 2005
End Date 22 January 2006
Venue Metropolitan Museum of Art
Location New York, USA
Curator Stephane Houy-Towner, Research Associate, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge

The Costume Institute will celebrate one of America’s quintessential stylemakers this fall with an exhibition of accessories and fashion from Iris Apfel. On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 13, 2005, to January 22, 2006, Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection will spotlight 60 objects, exploring the affinity between fashion and accessory designs and examining the power of dress and accessories to assert style above fashion, the individual above the collective.

An American original in the truest sense, Iris Apfel is one of the most vivacious personalities in the worlds of fashion, textiles, and interior design, and over the past 40 years, she has cultivated a personal style that is both witty and exuberantly idiosyncratic. Her originality is typically revealed in her mixing of high and low fashions – Dior haute couture with flea market finds, 19th-century ecclesiastical vestments with Dolce & Gabbana lizard trousers. With remarkable panache and discernment, she combines colors, textures, and patterns without regard to period, provenance, and, ultimately, aesthetic conventions. Paradoxically, her richly layered combinations – even at their most extreme and baroque – project a boldly graphic modernity. The exhibition will highlight individual accessories ranging from a Gripoix brooch to a Roger Jean-Pierre bracelet, a Mexican turquoise and hammered-silver belt to a Central Asian silver choker, a pair of 18th-century paste earrings to a pair of modern plastic cuffs. In addition, fully accessorized ensembles from the 1950s to the present will be shown as they were originally worn and styled by Mrs. Apfel.

As a distinguished collector and authority on antique fabrics, Iris Apfel has consulted on numerous restoration projects that include work at the White House. Along with her husband, Carl, she founded Old World Weavers, an international textile manufacturing company.

All of the objects in Rara Avis are promised gifts to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition signals a new phase in the collecting and exhibiting of accessories – including hats, shoes, and costume jewelry – by The Costume Institute, which currently oversees one of the most comprehensive collections of dress in the world.

The exhibition is organized by Stephane Houy-Towner, Research Associate, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.