Thursday, 13 August 2015

Fashion on Film: Iris

Bug-eyed spectacles, bright red lips, and a shock of white hair. These are the components that make up the distinctive Iris Apfel. A fashion stylist, interior designer, costume collector and all-round tastemaker, Iris is the subject of a new documentary by Albert Maysles, creator of the fabulous 'Grey Gardens'.

As the film opens we see Iris, 93, in her natural habitat: the thift store. Her eyes light up as she picks beaded bangles and rhinestone encrusted bracelets, threading them onto her arms as high as her elbows. She talks of her favourite hobby, shopping, as an addiction, admitting she is always after the next fix. And it's the bartering, the thrill of the chase, the joking and the people that make the experience what it is.

The phrase 'like a kid in a candy store' couldn't be more apt here. Iris is drawn to cherry-coloured beads and bright amber necklaces, layering them up to create a look that is is completely unique. "I don't have any rules because I would only be breaking them so it's a waste of time" she tells the camera, and it's true. Iris lives out her style advice in full technicolour. 

It's not about the lavish designer pieces (although she owns more than a few of these), it's the process of seeking out treasures, be it from market stalls, thrift shops, or department stores, and building each piece up to create the full outfit. Colours, textures and shapes come together to allow for maximum visual impact. For Iris, getting dressed is the main event. You can feel her excitement as she examines the printed lining of a jacket or admires a work of embroidery. Her look is carefully layered to present a story to the to the world.

But it's her personality and pure zest for life that is most enchanting. For Iris, the world is a playground. She seizes opportunities as they present themselves. From interior design work, to collecting costume jewellery, to putting on her own exhibition at the Met, and of course this documentary: nothing is too planned in advance. There are no five year plans, checklists or the endless quest for money or approval. In fact she continues to be endlessly surprised at all the attention she receives. It seems that Iris is most happy bouncing around the house with her husband, who at the grand age of 100 still allows Iris to dress him in a studded snap back. They seem most content cracking jokes, messing around and telling fantastic stories.

As she says herself: "It's better to be happy than well dressed." And I couldn't agree more.

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