“I don’t like pretty!” 93-year-old idiosyncratic fashion maven Iris Apfel remarks, in an enchanting new documentary by Albert Maysles.
Iris acknowledges that she was never a conventional beauty but that has hardly stopped her pursuing her passion for style and becoming one of the most original and daringly dressed women in New York. As Maysles films her on and off for the past four years he captures not just her remarkable talent for putting the most unexpected and stunning outfits together for her daily ensembles, but he also reveals a captivating quick-witted charmer with an insatiable appetite for living life to the full.
Iris, married to her centenarian husband Carl for the past 66 years, lives in her mother’s Park Avenue apartment crammed with racks and racks of clothes. These, she explains were bought to be worn and not simply to be collected. She mixes chic with cheap and the results are always fabulous.
She and Carl ran a very successful interior design business for years and their clients include many of the occupants of The White House over the years, in one charming scene she quickly stops Carl spilling the beans about (how difficult) Jacqueline Kennedy was.
She was already well-known by New York’s fashion insiders but then in 2005 the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted what they thought was a small exhibition of Iris’s clothing and jewellery which turned out to be an unexpected phenomenal success. Doors were suddenly opened to her including commissions to do collections for the Home Shopping Network and becoming a Visiting Professor of Fashion for the University of Texas.
She was now, in her own words an octogenarian starlet and she put some of this down to the fact the Exhibition had provided the world with much-needed fantasy and glamour. Iris never does anything petite: everything must be big and bold. “Colour is so important: it can raise the dead,” just one of the statements that just trip off her tongue as she spouts forth about her beliefs. What Maysles is quick to spot though is that despite the seemingly incessant flow of opinion, Iris refuses to take any of it seriously.
Towards the closing scenes of this delightful docu-portrait of the woman Bergdorf Goodman called, “the rare bird of fashion”, Iris claims that her two best traits are curiosity and having a good sense of humour. “I could never be a friend of anyone who wasn’t either”, she added.
Frankly it’s hard not to like someone as engaging as Iris who comes out with such plums as “my mother worshipped at the altar of the accessory.” By the end of the movie you may not want to actually worship at the altar of Apfel, but you will be very sorely tempted.
P.S. This sadly was the last work of the great documentarian Albert Maysles who died just days before the movie was screened at the Miami International Film Festival.