Iris, a film about Iris Apfel by Albert Mayeles, was recently added to Netflix, so of course I added it to my viewing queue. I really wasn’t too anxious to see it, as I’d lumped her into the category along with other eccentric dressers who have attracted the attention of photographer Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style. I was not prepared to find that Iris is the real deal, a woman who dresses to please herself, and not to be featured on a blog.
And while she is known for her extravagant outfits, and especially her vast jewelry collection, Iris is surprisingly down-to-earth. She dresses in what she likes, whether that be a shirt embroidered with the figure of Mickey Mouse, or a designer item from Bergdorf Goodman. The overwhelming lesson from Iris is that one needs to be true to his or her self.
Iris has a lot of clothes. There are racks and boxes all over her apartment, and she kept her mother’s apartment because she needed the storage space. We see her on several shopping treasure hunts, but the film also shows her in a meeting in one of her clothing storage areas, going through boxes she is donating to the Peabody Essex Museum. Iris formed a relationship with the Peabody Essex after a show featuring her wardrobe traveled there. She decided to will her collection to the museum, but she has already gone ahead and started the process of handing over many of her treasures.
The Peabody Essex might seem like an odd choice to receive Iris’s collection, especially since it was the Metropolitan’s Costume Institute that originally developed the exhibition of her clothes. The movie explains that Iris realized that her wardrobe would fill in a big gap in the costume collection of the Peabody Essex, so she saw the opportunity to make a difference at that museum. I think she did a wise thing by choosing a smaller museum. At the Met her stuff would have been swallowed up in their vast holdings.
The film is especially poignant because since it was made, both Albert Mayeles and Iris’s husband Carl have died. Carl and Iris’s relationship is an important part of the story, as they worked and traveled the world together for many years, and they were very close. At one point they are talking about decorating the White House and Carl happens to mention that they “had a problem with Jackie.” Iris punches him on the arm and scolds, “Stop!”
Iris is full of her wisdom, and she has some real insights into aging and how to handle it. Seriously, you don’t have to love fashion to love this film.