Published on Catalyst’s online site:
To the woman looking up the session times on her iPad on the train, giving me looks for being the obnoxious public transport goer speaking on the phone, this one’s for you.
Like the formula for most fashion documentaries, Iris is a documentary of the life of Iris Apfel, documenting her entire history with fashion over what plays like one day. An entry into the 94-year-old New Yorker’s exuberant world, the door is opened to the former interior designer and textile connoisseur’s life with husband Carl Apfel.
The film’s release comes a month and a half after the death of the director, Albert Maysles. Husband Carl Apfel passed away before his 101st birthday, just months after the film’s release. Carl’s 100th birthday provides a warm ending to the documentary, an inadvertent farewell to the Iris’ life-long partner. It’s not all pants and coats, like Iris says “everything is interrelated: politics and economics and science and fashion are all a part of the same”.
Iris isn’t a high budgeted fashion film reliant on production, publicity and glamour. It provides audiences with a raw, un-Instagram filtered insight into the life of a “cheap,” Iris says cheekily as she haggles with a shop owner. Appearances from Kanye West and Bill Cunningham only add to the film’s context.
The enormity and vivacity of Iris is mirrored in the colour of the film. She made be old, but there’s no black and white here. While a swipe of lipstick never hurt anyone, the self-appointed “geriatric starlet” is opposed to plastic surgery, relying on personality to carry her through her latter years.
Iris doesn’t do pretty. She also doesn’t follow fashion trends, or dress like the typical New Yorker. “Everything is homogenised. I hate it, whatever,” she says, unintentionally channelling the lexicon of the young bloggers she passes on the street. Iris provides a technicolour contrast to the straight faced monochrome “uniform” of the contemporary cool girl.
Viewers play the role of the non-existent grandchildren in her self appointed “Pandora’s Box” of treasures. A woman whose life isn’t consciously centred around fashion, she is very much consumed by it, her New York and Palm Beach apartments being filled with racks and racks of exquisite pieces. An entire room dedicated to clothes? The wardrobe of my dreams.
Watching Iris will make you reconsider your sartorial choices. Time to ditch the words of Chanel (sorry Coco) and embrace the “more is more” approach. If a 94-year-old woman can bear the weight of six bangles on each arm, we can manage an extra necklace or two.
Digital news outlet Quartz described the documentary as a “love story disguised as a fashion film”. Forget Kim and Kanye, Iris and Carl were the real relationship goals. Iris is not a disposable film about the frivolities of clothes and accessories. It memorialises Apfel’s life long love of fashion, her loving relationship with Carl and her professional and personal relationship with Maysles. It’s not the documentary of a life lived through rose coloured glasses. It’s a life lived through love, beautiful interiors, world trips- and black round spectacles, of course.
Photo: Independent Film Festival Boston