Iris Apfel debuted her handbag collection, Extinctions by Iris Apfel, last night at the Empire Room to a group of editors, buyers, and friends. Her design inspiration for the line came from a Mongolian lamb hat and coat by Lanvin that she discovered on one of her trips to Paris in the early seventies. “I literally stopped traffic because nobody had seen anything like it before. Since the hat was several shades of grey — just like my hair at that particular time — you couldn’t tell where I ended and the hat began. It was fabulous,” says Apfel, who is now 90 years old, in a press release. The fourteen bags, produced with Lisa Nunziata, president of L & Leung Design Group, come in jewel tones like deep red and burnt orange, and they’re rendered in materials like calf hair, snakeskin, and Mongolian wool. They’re lined in turquoise silk, because it’s Apfel’s favorite color, and come with hangtags of the label’s logo — a dodo bird. Read our Q&A with Apfel, plus see images of the complete collection, which ranges from $330 to $640 and hits stores in the fall.
Do you have a favorite bag that you’ve ever owned?
Well, I had made this one [she holds it up] years and years ago. It’s Mongolian, and I love it. But it’s all chewed up. This was the basis of everything. I bought the skin in Paris, and I made it.
Do you remember what year you made it?
Come on now, don’t be rude! A long time ago.
Why did you decide to call your bag line Extinctions?
Well, when Lisa [Nunziata] did the first bag for me for Home Shopping [Network], I was so overwhelmed by how beautifully done it was, especially the interior. I called her up and I said, “I just can’t believe it, it’s made like a $3,000 handbag.” And she said, “Yes, I’m very passionate about what I do … I was telling my staff that I think I might be the last of a dying breed.” So I said, “If you’re the last of a dying breed, I must already be extinct!” We had a good laugh at that, and then she said, “I like working with you. How would you like to do a handbag line with me?” And I said, “Oh, I’d love it.” And as I joke I said, “You’re the end of a dying breed, I’m already extinct, let’s call it Extinctions. We thought of having a dinosaur for the logo, but we must’ve looked at ten books, and we couldn’t find a pretty or a sexy dinosaur. So, I was talking about this problem at a dinner party, and a friend said, “You’re the rare bird. What’s wrong with a dodo?”
Do you prefer big bags or small bags?
I love big bags because all my eyeglasses are so big, and it’s very hard to get any bag that fits them. And I always have to carry a lot of stuff. I’m always dragging. When you’re a bag lady, you’re a bag lady.
How many bags do you think you have?
Oh, I can’t count that high.
What else inspired you for the bag line?
Well, I’ve been making handbags myself for many, many years because we were in the fabric business, but top, top of the market. [Editor’s note: Iris and her husband, Karl, started their own textile and design company called Old World Weavers, which they sold in 1992.] I was always looking for beautiful antique fabrics and unusual vintage fabrics, and I’ve made handbags over the years. Every time I travel, I always look for craftspeople to make shoes and bags. I’m an accessory freak, I love all kinds of stuff. I never thought I would do anything commercial, but at 90 years old, an old bag is starting a new career.
Do you have any personal style icons?
Well, I did years ago, I used to think that Millicent Rogers and Pauline de Rothschild. But those people aren’t around anymore.
Well, you’re a style icon now.
Well, thank you, thank you. I think it’s funny, because I’m not doing anything differently than I did 70 years ago. I wear the same kind of clothes, I do the same kind of stuff. Now all of a sudden I’m an icon, so I guess that’s pretty good.
Why do you think people are responding to what you wear now?
I don’t know, I guess there’s a hunger for originality and being yourself and doing creative things. And I have a big fan club of all ages: little kids, young women, even guys — not even gay guys, real guys! I like guys, all guys.
The Met Gala was Monday night. Have you been?
I used to go every year, but it’s not affordable anymore. It’s totally corporate now. Oh, it’s not the same. They used to be really beautiful and fun. Now the corporations buy tables, because who can afford such a ticket? John Barrett did my hair today and said that the tickets now are $25,000 a pop. I mean, that’s a little bit insane. I’m happy for the reason that the recipient is the Costume Institute, which I’m very involved with, and I like to see them get money. But otherwise, I think it’s sort of sad.
Did you see any of the dresses that people wore?
No, because I don’t do Internet, so I have to wait until they come out in the paper. It’s sort of like I live in the seventeenth century. I don’t like these online days. I mean, it has a lot of wonderful advantages, but I think young people are being robbed of their humanity — they don’t know how to speak to each other, they don’t know how to have a relationship, they can’t carry on a conversation. All they know is how to press buttons.