Iris Apfel, geriatric fashion icon
In almost any other context Iris Apfel would be labeled a hoarder, with not one but two apartments in Manhattan (one was her mother’s) crammed with tchotchkes and racks and racks of clothes. There’s also a winter residence down in Florida, similarly jammed; and a large storage space somewhere out on Long Island, crowded to the rafters with souvenirs— furniture, paintings, miscellaneous decorative furnishings—that she and Carl, her centenarian husband, accumulated during long lives filled with international travel. But Apfel is famous: New York City famous. Hailed as a “geriatric fashion icon” she’s in her early nineties, with her own line of accessories (Rara Avis) that she occasionally hawks on the Shopping Network. Iris is a 2014 documentary about Apfel—the last film, in fact—from filmmaker Alfred Maysles, who with his late brother David created such legendary films as Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976).
It’s hard not to admire an outsized personality such as Apfel, someone who embraces life so tenaciously, looking at the world bemusedly through her signature oversized glasses. She’s the poster person for uncensored self-expression, happily mixing haute couture with street fashion: a de la Renta top with skinny black denim jeans; a highly-patterned garment from an obscure tribal region in China, overlaid with half-a-dozen chunky necklaces, including a string of fist-sized amber beads that must weigh close to fifteen pounds.
Known as the queen of accessorizing, Apfel is shown rummaging through her enormous collection of costume jewelry (a collection that would probably fill a standard twenty-foot-long shipping container to the brim) to complete her outfits, fashioning twin gauntlets of enormous bangle bracelets that clatter as she gesticulates, and cover each of her forearms from wrist to elbow.
The film hints at what lies ahead, with tangential references to medical issues (a hip broken in a recent fall) and a few scenes illustrating the practical consequences of a lifetime of acquisition (Apfel is shown donating dozens and dozens of outfits from “her collection” to an art museum in Salem, Massachusetts). But Iris the film is about celebrating life, and Iris the fashion icon seems to be almost indefatigable and relentlessly upbeat, and appears to be loved by everyone who knows her.
Iris screened at DOXA 2015 and has one more screening left (on June 11th at 2:45) at the Vancity Theatre.