Here is an engaging documentary about a woman in her ‘90s who still has the world at her feet … in her case the world of fashion and creativity.
Her name is Iris Apfel and she is 93, extremely quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed and still married to a man who turned 100 during the making of the doco. Iris and her sense of style are much sought after because she has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. She mixes with big name designers and is lauded for her often outrageous clothes and accessories, which are regularly seen in exhibitions across the country. Her outfits are rich and colourful, reflecting a warmth and personality of their own. She is interviewed, as is her husband, who admits that their journey has never been dull.
Iris shops and is taken shopping and still knows how to haggle to land a bargain or two. She is a soaring free spirit, who provides inspiration to not only current designers and museum curators, but to future generations of artistes. Iris portrays a singular woman whose enthusiasm for fashion, art and people is infectious and proves to be her sustenance.
She is a big believer in experimentation when it comes to trying new and unusual ways to dress. She continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression. The documentary delves a little into the interior design business she ran with her husband, although I would love to have heard more about her past, as most of it is set in the here and now.
The director, who doubles as one of three cinematographers on the project, is no spring chicken himself. His name is Albert Maysles and he is 87. The New York Times once described him as “the dean of documentary filmmakers”, while Jean-Luc Godard called him “the best American cameraman”. Among those who speak about Iris are Harold Koda, curator in charge of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Margaret Russell, Editor-In-Chief of Architectural Digest.
Iris is a breath of fresh air. To see someone, clearly with some health issues, still as emboldened and impassioned as her is truly an inspiration. And that is probably the best word I can use for the movie itself, which is – indeed – inspirational. Iris has been lucky in love and lucky in life to be able to pursue her passions with vigour and vitality. She speaks with great clarity and vibrancy, with no prevarication.
I didn’t sense a particular logical narrative in the documentary, rather, snippets of her largely present life drawn together to form a picture of a woman with a zest for living. Still it is compelling and instructive. May Iris keep on keeping on for many years to come.
Rated M, Iris scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.
Director: Albert Maysles
Release date: 13 August 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television