Iris (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Iris Apfel

Dir. Albert Maysles, USA, 2014, 80 mins

Cast: Iris Apfel, Carl Apfel

In the first 5 minutes I fall absolutely in love with her. “Every time I do it I do it a different way.” A legend was born a staggering 93 years ago, in thick rimmed black frames or so I’d like to believe. Quick witted and spritely is Iris Apfel, a stylist in every sense of the word. She has cemented her style icon status over decades of being in the limelight as a successful businesswoman. She and her husband Carl are partners in life and work. She was married to Carl at 27 and they are spending their 7th decade happily married. Together they founded a fabrics manufacturing company and worked with clients including royalty, presidents and stars of all ages. Her world travels shaped her knowledge of interior design, fashion and her own unique personal style. She is admired, revered, congratulated by many who wouldn’t dare to attempt such courageous looks or who admire the skill and natural ability by which she reaches each conclusion with an ensemble or a collection put together for a show or exhibition.

What happens? On the NY fashion scene, Iris just explodes all over it. Despite being born in 1921, with import trade in the blood, Iris followed her father to jobs with legendary interior designers as well as being a dab hand at visual merchandising with her mother. Her formal education included a Fine Arts degree at New York University, where a natural ability met the teachings which will go on to be implemented in her successful trade and future styling endeavours. She grew up with hard work ethics and values, which was a prominent characteristic during the Great Depression. In her words, fashion should not be a science: “Not intellectual, (it’s) all gut.”

The director Albert Maysles, present in a couple shots, had as much charisma as Iris. In old films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the colourful off beat lead character always falls for the stiff rich gentleman. This is not the case in this true life story. They are both as eccentric as each other and complement each other famously. This documentary is up there in the ultimate legacy of stories told about people you wish were around, coming up in your generation. It has a great eclectic soundtrack, even Kanye West contributed.

Iris has what we call in the fashion industry true style. It isn’t taught, it is intuition. She feels right combining the accessories, prints colours and shapes. Dressing for her shape. Dressing for her emotions. Dressing for herself – making herself feel great. Where some celebrities try to shock or appeal to consumers and fans, she just takes pride in all her possessions; irrespective of the price tag it came with. She is a true model, without even taking a masterclass; with Madame Tyra Banks she “smiles with her eyes” like a NY style Americas next top model profession gal. She reeks of individuality.

Iris is a savvy, witty, hilarious piece of work which Maysles pulls together exquisitely well. She is just so original. She is outspoken. She is a one of a kind. And she is an inspiration. He chose a couple of subjects to document with charisma and flare which make something completely new in the documentary genre. It is too funny, too entertaining, too stunning with the cinematography. A great piece of work all in all, a great accomplishment and magnificently timed. In the words of Iris, “it’s better to be happy than well dressed”.

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Author: Jennifer Chuks

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