A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published September 3rd 2015
Redefining Old Age Style
Iris is a well-paced, engaging and entertaining documentary on the life and times of native New Yorker Iris Apfel. Iris cuts a striking figure and is described as a fashion icon, but she is so much more than that.
The film is made by acclaimed filmmaker Albert Maysles, a filmmaker who lets the viewer into the world of Iris Apfel, a 93 year old self described geriatric starlet. We are taken on a biography of Iris' lifetime of designing and fashion and her marriage to Carl Arpel in 1948, bringing together two soul mates.
One of life's true originals.
Iris studied art history at New York University and attended art school at the University of Wisconsin. She went on to work for Women's Wear Daily and for interior designer Elinor Johnson. She launched the textile firm Old World Weavers with her husband Carl, and ran it until they retired in 1992. From 1950 to 1992, Iris took part in several design restoration projects, including work at the White House for nine presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.
This is briefly referenced in the film. More is said of Iris and Carl never having children. Iris was an only child and relates when her mother returned to work when she was ten. 'I was devastated' and 'You can't have it all'. Iris and Carl are portrayed as two big kids with an apartment filled with kids toys, Christmas decorations for six months of the year and layers and layers of eclectic style, clothes, objects and art. In a sense it is creative hoarding, although I doubt Iris would see it that way. There is a parallel here with another great artist Margaret Olley, whose own home was also a riot of colour and collections. Margaret Olley's home has been immortalised in the Margaret Olley Art Gallery in Murwillumbah NSW. One wonders if Iris's apartment can likewise be preserved.
Iris lives by the maxim that you can't wear too much jewellry and that there are no rules. Her signature style is her oversized glasses and layers of bold colourful costume jewellery. Iris had her own exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, in 2005, in which her career as a fashion icon really took off. She has continued to exhibit her fashion and accessories. At the ripe age of 90 Apfel was a visiting professor at University of Texas at Austin. She is depicted in the documentary as saying the students have a good grasp of theory but know very little about life and history. This respect for history comes through very strongly, while also seeking out new frontiers in cultures far afield. There is no mention of her having travelled as far as Australia. Iris continues to consult and lecture about style and other fashion topics and also enjoys her shopping expeditions all over New York.
Iris has a sharp and inquiring mind, which is paired with her gentle and charming husband. Together they have formed a team for nearly 70 years. It is this back-story that shows how much they rely on each other for advice and support. Unfortunately Carl passed away on August 1st 2015 aged 100. Which will be a massive loss for Iris and all who know them.
Such is the journey that the viewer is taken on that in 88 minutes of film time, it feels that one could just drop in to the apartment for a cup of tea and a chat.
In a sense it is creative hoarding
Iris is nothing but honest in her talks to the camera. Her view on plastic surgery is refreshing. She states she knows people who have turned out looking like a Picasso painting following plastic surgery. 'Why? Everybody knows how old you are'. Her face is lined and unapologetically shows her age. She also notes that fashion fades, but style doesn't. This is one of her final pieces of wisdom before wandering off through the huge collection in her apartment, built over a lifetime to make a cup of tea.
The film features comments from designers, acquaintances and family who know and love Iris. It is hard not to admire Iris and her energy, style and creativity. She relates earlier in the film that she had no plan, things just happened the way they did. She has taken bold risks and continues this now, redefining old age. Iris is one of life's true originals.