By  on September 12, 2005

NEW YORK — It is little more than a month since the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute disassembled the exhibition honoring Coco Chanel, but it is already showcasing another woman with an irreverent approach toward fashion with the opening Tuesday of "Rara Avis: Selections From the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection."

The installation will be the first to fully incorporate accessories with the fashion on the mannequins displayed within the gallery.

Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute, who worked on the exhibition with research associate Stephane Houy-Towner, said the show marks a new direction for the Institute.

"We have an extraordinary accessories collection," he said. "But it hasn't been collected with a strong point of view, and it's impossible to portray a period without all the accoutrements."

Koda said in the Eighties a friend at Sotheby's called and said she had seen this remarkable clothing collection. When Koda saw it, he agreed, but was more interested because the collection was rounded out with items like shoes, boots, belts, and especially fashion and costume jewelry.

The collection belonged to Iris Apfel, an 84-year-old New York socialite and co-founder with her husband, Carl, of Old World Weavers, a high-end interior textile business. Apfel had been collecting things from around the world since her business started in the Fifties and did so with an eye toward her eccentric style that found her mixing things like Christian Dior couture with flea market finds or 19th-century ecclesiastical vestments with Dolce & Gabbana lizard trousers.

"We knew we wanted to build our accessories collection and she collected lots of accessories," Koda said.

Koda said originally, the Costume Institute planned for the show of her collection to be small. But after seeing the runways last season and the layered looks presented by designers like Marc Jacobs and Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent, Koda realized the exhibition had more to offer.

"[Apfel] is of the generation of women who would purchase entire ensembles from designers and wear them the way the designers presented the looks," he said. "But when she wore an ensemble, she mixed it all up with a rare eye. I realized the way she dresses is really of the moment. She is somebody who has been really individual her whole life and is suddenly coincident with the fashion system."The installation includes some 80 mannequins organized within various vignettes, with their outfits serving as more of a background for the footwear, bangles, belts, brooches and necklaces. Apfel herself came in to help style the show.

Looks include a bright orange Geoffrey Beene jersey pantsuit paired with a turquoise bigger-than-lifesize scorpion pin, a Mexican hammered-silver and chunky torquoise belt and Venetian blue plastic cuffs with a gilded trim. There also will be a purple and blue silk blend Lanvin evening coat paired with a necklace Apfel fashioned out of inexpensive golf ball-sized gold orbs and pendants of massive Masai gold ear ornaments.

"She likes to introduce humor and irony and parody into her dressing," Koda said.

Individual accessories also appear in the show. They include luxurious items, like a Gripoix flower brooch, Armani leather and crystal dragonfly pin and Chanel woven leather and gold-plated cuff. Also included are found items, like an antique Hungarian needlework belt and a bib necklace abounding with dime-store plastic children's toys.

"Rara Avis" will be on display through Jan. 22.

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