They say that as you grow older, you’re supposed to be less inclined to want to acquire things. Well, if that’s the case, Iris Apfel didn’t get the memo. The universally declared “Rare Bird of Fashion” has more clothes, jewelry pieces and bric a brac than anyone, even royalty. And, because an icon deserves an icon, Albert Maysles, best known for Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens, decided to make a documentary about her, titled simply Iris.
Following her day-to-day existence as a fashion fixture of New York, it becomes clear right away that Iris tends to have a busier schedule than even some of the biggest names in entertainment. Between her Home Shopping Network appearances, in-person interactions at Loehmann’s where she gives audience members fashion advice and promoting her own MAC Cosmetics line, Iris has little time to think about such frivolities as mortality. Embracing her title as a “geriatric starlet,” Iris comes across as a good-natured (but tough-talking) broad with skills and know-how of sartorial styling that can’t be learned, merely born with.
And yet, for all of Maysles’ seasonedness as a documentarian (he, like Iris, is the last of a dying breed in talent), it seems as though we never really get to any greater meaning behind what Iris is about. Yes, her less than conventional looks and lack of what most people would call attractiveness are addressed as an early part of why she began to style herself so uniquely and bombastically. But, other than that, it appears as though Iris has led a rather happy-go-lucky existence, determined to live life as loudly as possible, otherwise, as she notes, “What’s the point?”
The only moments of sadness come toward the end of the film, when Iris begins to talk more candidly about her and her husband’s, Carl, health. Carl, who turns one-hundred by the end (and sadly didn’t make it to his 101st this year), waxes poetic about wanting to keep going for his “child bride,” one of many moments of tenderness expressed that make their sixty-seven year marriage seem like one of the grandest romances ever told. Perhaps their secret was never having children, on which Iris points out, “You can’t have everything.”
If there is any “character arc,” so to speak, in Iris, it’s her decision to finally sell some of the many pieces occupying her massive storage unit in Long Island City. “As you get older, you realize that all these other things are just…” and then she snaps her fingers as though to say poof. In addition to her sageness on materialism, Iris, too, realizes the inanity of beauty in youth, capping the documentary by saying, “I’m not a pretty person. I don’t like pretty. So I don’t feel badly, and I think it worked out well. Because I found that, for instance, all the girls that I know who were very pretty girls and got by on their looks, as time went on, and they faded…they were nothing.”
In short, get yo’self some goddamn style and a personality–Iris’ orders.