We’re talking about artists. It’s no surprise that quintessential American fashion stylist, textile designer and compleat collector Iris Barrel Apfel was attracted to the creations of Misha Berger, the très artistic husband of Clara Kasavina. Misha, you may recall, is a sculptor from Ukraine. When he moved to the States, he took work setting stones in New York’s Diamond District. After he and Clara met and married, they decided to go into business together. Presto! They began designing and manufacturing sculptural jewelry and stone-encrusted evening bags. (By the way, Misha’s jewelry designs from the ‘80’s, including an extraordinary, must-have hammered gold cuff, have recently been reissued and are enjoying BOFFO sales.)
Misha Berger’s “Helen” Cuff
But back to Iris Apfel. Her mother was Russian, and owned a fashion boutique, so Iris didn’t steal her talent from the lamppost, as we Irish say. And, like Misha, she also went into business with her spouse. In 1948, Iris and Carl Apfel launched the textile firm Old World Weavers and ran it until they retired in 1992. During this time, Iris Apfel took part in design restoration projects at the White House for no fewer than eight presidents. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City premiered an exhibition entitled Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. The show, highlighting accessories and fashions from her amazing collection, was such a smash that it traveled to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach and to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass, among other institutions.
The exhibit catalog described her artistry this way: “Her originality is typically revealed in her mixing of high and low fashions—Dior haute couture with flea market finds, nineteenth-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.” Wow!
Now here’s where Misha comes back into this story. One of Iris’s picks for the show at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach was M. Berger’s extraordinary crocodile, gem and chainmail bag called “Ruth”. I believe that the genie of creation inhabits various forms in various times (porcelain in 18th century France, for instance, or architecture in 17th century India). Dare we say that genie now inhabits the realm of the handbag? Certainly Misha Berger’s “Ruth” would attest to that: it is simply a work of art.
Guest blogger: Peggy Healy
Iris Apfel Mannequin Accessorized with “Ruth” Bag”