RARE BIRD OF FASHION IRIS APFEL, who turned 90 this past summer, recalls the first piece of jewelry she ever purchased. She was 11 and shopping alone in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village when she stumbled upon a rhinestone-studded brass brooch in a tiny basement shop. The owner, Monsieur Duras (who wore a monocle and spats) sold it to her for 65 cents—a “king’s ransom,” as Apfel puts it. Since then, she has amassed an astounding collection of jewelry, culled from hole-in-the-wall shops, haute couture ateliers, trade shows, and Turkish souks. Labels are of little importance; as long as it’s big, clunky, exceedingly decorative, and unique, she’ll buy it—and pile it on. “How would I describe my style?”she says, seated in her Park Avenue apartment, dressed in a chambray Mickey Mouse shirt and wearing armloads of bangles. “I don’t know. Moi?”
Celebrated in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005, Apfel’s more-is-more aesthetic has earned her legions of fans—and now, customers. In collaboration with online retailer yoox.com, she has designed two collections that go on sale this month: ready-to-wear, which includes densely layered tea-stained bone necklaces and hefty amber bracelets, and a more expensive limited edition that features glass stone–encrusted frog pins and rhinestone cuffs the size of car headlights. Additionally, she is selling a selection of pieces pulled from her own collection—among them, bejeweled blackamoor pins and a stunning turquoise snake cuff. Not that Apfel doesn’t adore them anymore. “There comes a point when you need space,” she reasons. “Plus, I could use a few shekels” (yoox.com; $45 to $3,500).