Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"What emerges as so extraordinary about the way Iris presents herself, and what makes her so beloved by many people in the fashion industry, is the total freedom of reference she enjoys in anyone."

Best Of Enemies co-director and last year's Best Documentary Oscar winner for his insightful and intimate 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville, wrote to me when he heard that Albert Maysles had died: "I’m at the True/False Documentary Film Festival now - the kind of gathering of filmmakers that would not exist like it does without the work of Al and David Maysles. Al’s passing today has left everyone in a contemplative mood. He lived the life of a documentary filmmaker that all of us aspire to. He was always curious and still making films until the end. I can’t think of a better way to live one’s life."

Iris, in 2014, was the last film Albert Maysles presented at the New York Film Festival and is about a truly individual style icon. The then 93-year-old master of the accessory, Iris Apfel, who together with her 100-plus husband of almost 70 years, Carl, was Maysles' friend. In his film, he has her explain the art of dressing herself, a fascinating philosophical endeavor to watch. Designer Dries Van Noten, J.Crew Creative Director, Jenna Lyons, Martha Stewart, and Bruce Weber comment, the latter also on Maysles, that "the ladies are all over Albert."

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"I like to improvise," Iris explains the artistic process of putting on things to wear, something she clearly enjoys. Getting dressed for the party is the best part, much better than being at most parties. Some parties aren't bad, though, especially when you are celebrated with a one woman show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dries Van Noten knows that the Iris Apfel exhibit (which ran at the same time as Fra Angelico at the Met in 2006), "changed her life." A gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Institute that currently shows Wong Kar Wai and Andrew Bolton's China Through the Looking Glass, is named after her and her husband.

Iris still owns the shoes she wore at her wedding to Carl. The film introduces us to him through a clip from a talk show with Martha Stewart. The camera pans down on his terrifically unexpected pants while they discuss the Apfel decorating and fabric business. Next we see Iris jacket shopping in Harlem. In a great and very Maysles moment, Carl wants to spill the beans on their interior design White House connection. "We had a problem with Jackie," he starts, confiding to Albert. Iris stops him, very much aware of the camera and the impression she does not want to give.

On the issue of plastic surgery, as common as a haircut in her Park Avenue circles, she does not hold back, "some people come out looking like a Picasso." Iris knows her comedic timing. "Unless God gave you a nose like Pinocchio," cutting up your features is not encouraged, because how things match is important to her. "You have those scrawny old hands that don't go with your face," she explains with disapproval written all over her expression. "Anyway, I don't happen to like pretty," she pauses a second, "most of the world is not with me."

She likes to arrange things, be it jewellery on her body or toys and chandeliers and knick-knacks of all sorts in the Apfels' very personal amusement park ride apartments on Park Avenue and in Palm Beach. Weber sums up the vibe in two choice sentences. "It's kind of always Christmas there," and that "it's the most perfect house for two children."

What emerges as so extraordinary about the way Iris presents herself, and what makes her so beloved by many people in the fashion industry, is the total freedom of reference she enjoys in anyone. High, low, cheap, expensive, she takes it all and by doing so, points us to the ridiculous limitations most of us impose on our choices. You might start to question the ideology hidden in the way we wear what we wear. What associations keep you from wearing something you secretly very personally like? Fear of ridicule, rejection by peers, trying to fit in, looking wealthy, looking slim, dressing down, looking as though you don't care - the documentary makes you acutely aware of these daily thoughts because they are absent in Iris.

An Eighties denim shirt with embroidered cows grazing across her chest one day and a re-invented church garment or a tunic with a transformed hood, the next. Carl can resemble a century-old Ken doll she likes to dress. He is shown buying a gold-studded red baseball cap at a beach kiosk that he wears with palm tree pants. Iris likes "lots of pizzazz," an irreverence that can shock people, such as the host of the Home Shopping Network show, who seems struck by lighting when interacting with Iris. "You don't own anything here, you just rent," Iris knows, as she opens up the doors to her storage rooms and her heart to Maysles, who captured the very first meeting between Iris and J.Crew's Jenna Lyons at the CFDA awards on camera. Lyons, another great storyteller with clothes, told me at The Paris Theatre premiere in New York, that she copied the chartreuse outfit Iris wore in homage to their very first meeting. When I commented to Iris on the red carpet that it was wonderful to see her on camera with Albert Maysles, she replied, "Oh, he was the greatest. I'm very lucky, very lucky."

Most of us have to choose something to wear each day. Iris advises us to pick what brings joy to ourselves and others. In this world of fast fashion and thoughtless consumption which targets everybody to replenish the ever widening emotional and financial gap by buying more and more, cheaper and cheaper objects, the origins of which we shall not question, Iris, counterintuitively, in her shopaholic way, does make you think twice. Or thrice, if the garment is truly necessary to tell a new story.

Iris, along with Grey Gardens and Meet Marlon Brando, will be screened in this year's Sheffield DocFest tribute to Albert Maysles. Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's portrait of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., Best Of Enemies in the Ideas & Science section.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2015
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Iris packshot
Portrait of fashion and interior-design expert Iris Apfel.
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Director: Albert Maysles

Year: 2014

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US

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