As I walk up to the Upper East Side Bernardaud boutique, I notice several bystanders peering through the glass windows with their iPhones poised to capture a shot of the inimitable Iris Apfel. The 98-year-old style maven has become globally recognized for her signature black round glasses and larger-than-life jewelry. The Queens, New York native launched a textile firm Old World Weavers with her late husband Carl Apfel in 1950 and together, the pair ran it until “retirement” in 1992. The word “retirement” is not an idea that sits well with Apfel, though. “That’s worse than death,” Apfel candidly says of retiring. “I think that’s why so many old people have a bad time. They have nothing to do but sit at home and think about themselves.”
The businesswoman has been involved in design projects at the White House, served as a visiting professor at The University of Texas at Austin, signed a modeling contract with IMG (at the age of 97), collaborated with various brands, and shows no signs of slowing down. From the museum retrospective at the MoMA dedicated to Apfel to Mattel’s Barbie doll designed in Apfel’s likeness, the world of fashion has been changed forever because of Apfel’s boundary-breaking personality and of course, her influential mantra of, more is more and less is a bore. On trends in fashion today, Apfel tells me, “I don’t follow trends. I think people should be more individual and not follow the herd.”
Her latest venture is a truly unique one and is in conjunction with renowned French porcelain manufacturer Michel Bernardaud. Bernardaud and Apfel met several years ago in Paris and Apfel has remained a fan of the brand’s exquisite Limoges porcelain since then. While Apfel has collaborated with many different designers and brands, why did Bernardaud capture her attention? In typical Apfel fashion, she decides, “This is all very new. Nobody has ever done anything like this before.”
The Be Bold Over jewelry collection features distinct pieces of jewelry made of Bernardaud porcelain, and all inspired by Apfel’s unique taste. From smooth necklaces with discs of porcelain to eclectic owl brooches, there is one piece that stands out as Apfel’s favorite. A necklace dubbed “Adam” that features pieces of porcelain linked together to make up the shape of a man’s body. “I love him. I think he’s whimsical and well-designed,” she says of the necklace. The Be Bold Over collection is colorful, light, and distinct. I can’t help but wonder what else is included in Apfel’s personal jewelry collection, especially after she admits she’s been collecting jewelry since she was about 11.
Apfel tells me she still has the first piece of jewelry she ever purchased. “I don’t wear it anymore but it is beautiful. It looks like an antique brooch. It is raised and is antique gold and is studded with Tiffany-set diamonds. I saw it and I lusted after it. I didn’t have any money so I saved my pennies and finally, I had the magnificent sum of 65 cents. This gentlemen who owned the store was fascinated by me because he had never seen a kid so interested in his junk. So we haggled and haggled and I got him down to 65 cents.”
While the Be Bold Over collection of jewelry is beautiful, Apfel assures me there is more to come saying, “We’re working on a lot of other interesting things.”