“I didn’t give a damn about going to the party or being at the party, it was getting dressed for the party, and there’s truth and poetry in that”.
So says Iris Apfel, the self-styled ‘rare bird of fashion’ who, at 93 years old, is the subject of a documentary by the legendary Albert Maysles.
Apfel is a New Yorker with a husky drawl and a life-long lust for hunting, collecting and wearing fabulous clothes. With husband Carl, she founded a luxury fabric company – Old World Weavers – in 1950, and together they’ve restored the White House interiors for nine presidents. In 2005 The Costume Institute, at The Metropolitan Museum of Artpremiered an exhibition of Apfel’s own personal style, launching her into the public eye. Apfel now owns one of the largest collections of couture clothing and costume jewelry in the United States. With her quick wit, fearless personality and a wealth of entertaining anecdotes about her 67-year old marriage to Carl (whose 100th birthday features in the documentary), it’s no small wonder Apfel has become an icon.
Threads, accessories and trade-mark over-sized glasses aside, Iris is more than a fashionista tale; it’s a portrait of what it means to retain a vibrant sense of experimentation and personal autonomy – even into old age. It’s a visual experience and yet most unforgettable of all is the compelling voice of Apfel herself. Her croaking tones belie an ability to impart a lot of valuable information without revealing any real secrets, and embedded amid footage of shopping, photography sessions and home-life, is the fundamental question of how a person can create a life about which one remains, over time, utterly passionate? Apfel offers only a cursory level of practical advice: be yourself, be original, be unafraid of what others will think of you. Gloriously, the geriatric starlet remains mysterious.
“There are a million things more important than fashion,” Apfel declares. Dressing up belongs in the category of ‘fun.” Yet, her story is one about doing something very ordinary – dressing yourself (and others) – with extraordinary dedication. Apfel makes what so many of us aim for in our lives – style, resonance, acknowledgment – seem easy. Annemarie Ni Churreain
See IRIS at The Lighthouse Cinema until 27th August 2015.