Iris Apfel – A Rare Bird Captured In Celluloid by Jo Bayley

Iris 3

Iris 3Sometimes you just need to colour your world, and last night I did just that.

I had the pleasure of reviewing a fantastic new documentary revolving around the flamboyantly dressed 93 year old style maven Iris Apfel.

If you don’t know the name, it’s more than likely that you would recognise the oversized black rimmed glasses and “more is more” attitude.

The diminutive figure swathed in technicolour reminds us that dressing and indeed life is nothing but an experiment.

An outsized presence in the New York scene for decades, her free spirit is captured beautifully by the late documentarian Albert Maysles.

Born on August 29th 1921, she was once told by Frieda Loehmann of the department store Loehmanns “you’re not pretty, you’ll never be pretty but it doesn’t matter. You have something much better.

You have style.” Style she has, and she has it in bucket loads!

Iris-and-TurquoiseMaysles, well known for his work on the 1970 piece “Gimme Shelter” and 1975’s “Grey Gardens”, has managed to give an extra ordinary insight into and extra ordinary character.

In a sea of mundane, Iris isn’t just a breath of fresh air, she is a hurricane of happiness, and we are fortunate that Albert finished this tribute to a rare bird before his passing on March 5th 2015.

Many would say of Apfel “Isn’t she brave” on seeing her sartorial choices, but I disagree.

I think she is one of life’s leaders, not followers, and I hazard a guess she would never call herself brave, at least in the fashion department!

Not one to follow trends or fads – if she likes it, she wears it!

As she says “my mother worshiped at the altar of accessories”, well the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s a wonder she can stand with ropes of beads adoring her neck and bangles 10 fold up her arms. It’s beyond fabulous and it just works.

Apfels quotes are brilliant, ranging from “I don’t have any rules as I would only be breaking them, so it’s a waste of time” to “I can’t judge.

It’s better to be happy than well dressed.”

As her husband of 67 years, Carl Apfel, who turned 100 during the filming says “It’s not a dull marriage!”

And just quietly, I think he loves it!

She has him dressed to the nines in funky trousers and a baseball cap straight out of a Run DMC clip.

Iris 5They obviously adore one another.

He calls her the “child bride” and she refers to him as “pussycat”.

Their rapport with one another is heartfelt and childlike, as is their Park Avenue apartment.

Christmas lights left aglow for at least 8 months of the year, teddy bears in every nook and cranny.

It’s eccentricity at it’s finest.

She still has the dress she wore on their first date and it still fits, she states proudly.

Two years after they married in 1948 they launched textile firm Old World Weavers” and continued to run it until 1992 upon their retirement.

They worked under nine presidents in the White House from 1950 till 1992, on restoration work.

Travelling to Europe at least twice a year, they have amassed an incredible collection of antiques, fabrics and artworks.

It truly is a joy to view life through the eyes of Iris Apfel for 83 minutes.

She is as sharp as a tack and quick with a quip, which is all part of her charm.

To enter her world is a privilege, and I desperately want to have dinner with the two of them.

Iris 1She is very pragmatic with her opinions, and I must say I agree wholeheartedly with most that she shares.

WGSN Global Fashion AwardsTowards the end it does become obvious to the viewer that they are culling their collection, something that doesn’t come easy to the bower bird within.

IrisAt 93 and 100 years of age they are the perfect examples of how not to grow old in the mental sense, yet there is a poignancy captured beautifully by Maysles.

I felt watching this piece that they are all too aware of the realities of life, still theirs is a life overflowing with colour and enjoyment.

I did feel a sadness knowing that nothing is forever, and truly wonder how one will cope without the other.

But for now they are just like the perfect lovebirds, petite, brightly plumed parrots that mate for life. Indeed rare birds in this lifetime.

Iris 6If you loved “Advanced Style”, you’ll love Iris!

Your wardrobe may never be the same again.


Jo Bayley, Fashion Editor, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Iris, distributed by Madman Films

In selected cinemas around Australian from August 13.

Watch the Trailer

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