Iris Apfel is the 93-year-old known for her porthole and Mr. Magoo-sized spectacles, among her other fully loaded glam accessories. When Iris was a young woman from Queens, New York, starting out in the fashion industry, Frieda Loehmann, founder of the famed department store, took her aside: “You’re not pretty and you’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. You have something much better. You have style.” Well, say no more … Iris, the skilled and astute interior design maven for the likes of the Kennedys, went on to become a beloved New York fashion icon, self-styled “geriatric starlet,” and senior super-model. This rare-bird of fashion is famous for dressing with delirious, eye-searing panache. “I like to improvise,” she says, “try this, try that, as though I’m playing jazz.”
This last film of Albert Maysles—who, with his late brother David, directed such classics as Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens—follows Apfel on her shopping expeditions; explores the clutter-filled Aladdin’s cave of a home she shares with her husband and interior design partner, Carl, now 101; and shows her imparting wisdom to younger fashionistas. Given that this Grand Dame of Fashion has made a lifelong three-ring circus out of her dress sense, it would be easy to dismiss her as an eccentric show-off rather than exalt her as a permanent performance artist. She emerges here as a down-to-earth, self-mocking, savvy philosopher, a one-off combination of Madame de Pompadour, a dry-wit standup, and, most of all, an inspiring ambassador for aging creatively, energetically, and, why not, flamboyantly!