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Iris

Yes, you can be a style icon in your 90s: Iris Apfel shows you how

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The "rare bird of fashion" Iris Apfel
  • The "rare bird of fashion" Iris Apfel

Age doesn’t stop creative people, as proved in Iris, 87-year-old Albert Maysles’ documentary profile of New Yorker Iris Apfel, a flamboyant 93-year-old fashion icon. Apfel is a tiny, birdlike woman known for her huge black-rimmed eyeglasses, colorful mix-and-match outfits and gigantic pieces of costume jewelry. 

Not much happens in Iris: Maysles and his camera trail Apfel as she does photo shoots, wanders her crazy-packed apartment, gives lectures and banters with her husband of more than six decades. (Mr. Apfel seems bemused to be living on the edge of Iris’ whirlwind, and at age 99, gamely wears some outrageous trousers she chooses for him.) 

But Apfel is just a blast to hang out with for 90 minutes, with her extravagant outfits, indomitable spirit (still haggling!), quick wit and many truth bombs: "Everything is homogenized these days. I hate it."; "It is better to be happy than well dressed."; "I need the sheckels." 

And we get a little backstory about the Apfels’ long career as specialized interior designers, and how their world travels helped to develop Iris’ unique personal style. 

She also relates a valuable lesson from her youth, when she would shop at the original Loehmann’s discount store. Mrs. Loehmann, she recalls, once called her over and counseled: "You’re not pretty, but you have something better — you have style." 

"Style" can only half explain how Apfel can string a dozen oversized bangles — from fine amber to junk-shop kitsch — on one arm and make it look fabulous; another factor is surely, for lack of a better term, attitude. 

She seems too busy to be worried about death (which did claim Maysles earlier this year), and perhaps, in her take-charge way, she has found a loophole. While guesting on the Home Shopping network, she declares to a somewhat alarmed host: "Color can raise the dead." 

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