In her mid-80’s Iris Apfel became a global fashion sensation when the New York Metropolitan Museum approached her about sharing her fabulous and eclectic fashions for the “Iris Apfel, Rare Bird of Fashion” show. Today, at 93 she still dresses to impress and her star will only grow larger with the release of “Iris” a marvelous documentary by the late, great Albert Maysles (who died in March, at age 88, having directed such docs as “Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter.”).
From the first moment onscreen, Iris shows off her style via a montage of her accessories and colorful clothes. The saucer-shaped bespectacled Iris is a straight talker and recognizes her own strengths and weaknesses. She nonchalantly describes how as a young woman, the original Mrs. Loehmann told her, “You’re not pretty, and you’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. You have something much better, you have style.” And Iris has style in spades.
Maysles lets Iris do most of the talking in the film as she relates her life story. She started her career at Women’s Wear Daily, then became a sought after interior designer, and along with her husband, Carl (who turns 100-years-old in the film), created Old World Weavers. Manufacturing fabrics, Iris and Carl helped restore furniture in places like the Metropolitan Museum as well as the White House. They frequently travelled the world looking for textiles, and Iris with her eye for fashion, picked up locally crafted accessories as well. In fact, Harold Koda, who is the curator for the Met’s Costume Institute, remarks that Iris has one of the best accessory collections in the United States.
It’s easy to see as Iris models outfits and accessories, takes viewers through her homes in New York and Palm Beach and even gives a glimpse into her warehouse/storage areas. But what’s splendid about Iris, beyond her effervescent personality, her love for Carl and fashion, is that Iris likes to share and give back. In addition to fashion panels, she’s also a visiting Professor at the University of Texas, where each year she invites students for a weeklong tour of the fashion industry. She frankly worries that young designers today don’t know enough about fashion history and textiles and works to remedy that.
But it’s not all fashion. There are ups and downs for Iris and Carl in terms of health, and Iris always presents a strong front for Carl—she doesn’t want him to worry. There is also the fact that she, Carl and even Maysles are in their twilight years as they make this documentary. Moments of clearing out closets and donating clothes to the Peabody Essex Collection are fully weighted.
Nonetheless, through Maysles unique way in capturing subjects, audiences will be thrilled to spend time with Iris and her husband Carl. And without a doubt, “Iris” is sure to enchant with her fashion wisdom and captivating spirit.
“Iris” is 80 minutes, Rated PG-13, and opens Friday, May 1 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and CineFamily Theatre.