Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Albert Maysles.
Ninety-three year old Iris Apfel is a fashion icon renowned for her extensive and colourful collection of couture costumes, her flamboyant dress sense, and her ability to accessorise. She is also a renowned interior decorator and style consultant who has been an influential figure on the New York fashion scene for many decades. She gives advice on style to women sixty years her junior, and she decries the lack of originality of today’s dress sense. Her costumes have been the subject of many museum and gallery exhibitions. A colourful character in her own right she is opinionated, stylish, energetic and full of life, and she has a wealth of anecdotes, which makes her a great subject for a documentary.
We first met ninety-three year old Iris in the documentary Bill Cunningham New York, about the legendary fashion photographer who led a simple lifestyle and seemed unaffected by the glamourous world he inhabited. Now the colourful Iris is front and centre in her own documentary from veteran documentarian Albert Maysles. This is one of the last movies shot by the late filmmaker who is best known for his Gimme Shelter, the 1969 documentary about the Rolling Stones and their fateful concert at Altamont. As usual, Maysles adopts an observational approach as he follows Apfel during her busy daily routine and public appearances.
This is a heartfelt documentary that follows Iris on shopping expeditions through thrift stores in Harlem in search of colourful knick knacks. She is an astute bargainer as well. We are taken inside her Park Avenue apartment which is cluttered with bric-a-brac and rooms full of clothes. We also get to meet her faithful and understanding husband and business partner Carl, who turned 100 during the making of the film. Iris and Carl have worked on numerous White House projects since the Truman administration, although, as she says cheekily, she can’t talk about them. Interspersed throughout the film is some 16mm footage shot by Carl himself during their many European holidays.
Amongst those interviewed about Iris and her influence are Harold Koda, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Margaret Russell, the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest.
Iris has an infectious enthusiasm for life and a playful, childlike attitude, which comes across strongly. And she has a natural screen presence. While the film captures her vibrant personality, there is little depth or insight here. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating documentary that has broad appeal, unlike many other fashion documentaries.