Iris (2014)

directed by: Albert Maysles

starring: Iris Apfel

run time: 83 minutes

MPAA rating: PG13 (god knows why)

IMDb link

Less is more, Mies van der Rohe’s memorable dictum, must be anathema to Iris Apfel, the subject of documentarian Albert Maysles’ final film before his death earlier this year.
Like his other films–“Grey Gardens,” “Gimme Shelter,” and many more– “Iris,” filmed over a period of four years, is cinéma verité–no talking heads, no explanations.
So–who is Iris Apfel?
A “fashion icon,” a “geriatric starlet” (her own phrase), Iris is a nonagenarian New Yorker (check out that accent!) with enormous round glasses, an unlifted face, and an unrivaled wardrobe of clothes and costume jewelry. Her “mad” outfits (again her own term) combine colors, patterns, ethnic and flea market finds, and piles of necklaces and bracelets. You’d recognize her on the street in a New York second. “I don’t have any rules because I’d be breaking them all the time,” she says, condemning the “uniforms”–black and more black–of most New York women.
Some of Iris’s outfits are breathtaking, with exotic textiles from all over the world, and those masses of jewelry. Others–well, let’s say they’re so over the top that conventional standards just don’t apply.
In 1950, Iris and Carl, her husband of many decades, founded Old World Weavers, designing and manufacturing luxury fabrics for the decorator trade. Old home movies show the couple traveling the world for inspiration. Iris herself worked as an interior designer, and, even in her 90s, has been the subject of a one-woman show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She’s the inspiration of window displays at Bergdorf Goodman–she dresses the dummies, who all wear huge red-framed round glasses. She established a line of costume jewelry and counsels young women on their wardrobes. She’s been exhaustively interviewed and profiled.
Albert Maysles tracks Iris in her New York and Palm Beach apartments, along flea market forays, and with luminaries in the fashion and style world–the editor of “Architectural Digest,” designers Dries van Noten, Naeem Kahn, and Duro Olowu. Iris is no snob: she also hobnobs with the creative director of J. Crew and has appeared at the 90th anniversary celebration of Loehmann’s.
Even for a documentary, “Iris” doesn’t have much of a plot line or chronology. It doesn’t tell us about Iris’s parents or her growing up or how she met Carl. It doesn’t explain the origins of her obsession with style. Rather, it’s an extended visit with a unique personality who, despite lack of conventional good looks (“I never felt pretty… I don’t happen to like pretty”), has created her own success story.
People like me who devour the “Style” section of the “New York Times” will love it. Others–not so much.

San Francisco ,
Renata Polt, a freelance writer and critic, is the translator and editor of A Thousand Kisses: A Grandmother's Holocaust Letters.