I had never heard of Iris Apfel before viewing the documentary with the eponymous title “Iris.” Where have I been? This flamboyant fashionista has set many a trend in the fashion world, even to this day when she has reached the age of 93. Photos of Iris are not available for internet usage, unfortunately.
The film was directed by Albert Maysles, an icon in his own right, who died six weeks before the documentary was released. His other successful documentaries include “Grey Gardens” and “When We Were Kings.”
Iris and Carl
An important aspect of the film is the relationship that Iris has with her husband Carl, whose 100th birthday party was shown as part of the documentary. One of their guests was their family doctor who has taken care of both of them for over 40 years. Iris and Carl have a beautiful marital friendship. They go everywhere together; he allows her to buy whatever pleases her, and the two have a repartee of humorous one-liners which they throw out quickly. In one scene, Carl said “I think I’ll keep her.” Iris replied “Well, the trade-in value is not so high."
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Iris Apfel's Trademark - Wikimedia
Iris’s trademark is her eyeglasses which are rounded and black-rimmed. If the mannequins in a store window are shown with this symbol, the viewer knows that the fashions depicted are creations of Iris. She remarked “My mother worshipped at the altar of accessories,” which was undoubtedly passed down to Iris. Her outfits are bold and daring, totally non-traditional and offset by several huge pieces of unmatched jewelry on her wrists and around her neck, which amazingly complement the outrage of clothing which she has assembled. “I don’t do anything petite,” she stated. “No, I like big and bold, with lots of pizzazz.”
Early on, Iris had a large decorating business, and joined forces with a weaver. In 1950, she and Carl founded “Old World Weavers,” a textile company which accommodated nine different presidents in performing White House restorations. They also did restorations in many museums.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Mannequins - Wikimedia
European Buying Trips
Iris and Carl have traveled the world, seeking clothing and accessories which catch Iris’s eye. Twice a year they go to Europe on a buying excursion. Carl remarked that the dealers became familiar with them and would open up their shops at any hour to accommodate them. Iris is an expert at haggling, and always manages to pay less than the asking price for her finds. She began this practice when she was 12 years old and spied a brooch in a shop in Greenwich Village. She was able to get the owner down to 65 cents, and walked away with her purchase.
At Loemann’s Department Store in Brooklyn (which is now closed at that location), Mrs. Frieda Loemann said to Iris one day when she was a young adult “You're not pretty and you'll never be pretty, but it doesn't matter. You have something much better. You have style. ”
Park Avenue and Palm Beach
Iris and Carl have a Park Avenue apartment as well as an apartment in Palm Beach Towers in Florida. Several rooms at Park Avenue are set aside for her huge collection of clothes. She also has clothes stored in a relative’s apartment and in Palm Beach. Also, in Palm Beach, each room is loaded with knick-knacks, stuffed animals, and ornamental statues. The Christmas Lights and decorations stay up for eight months out of the year. It resembles a hoarder’s paradise.
Jewelry Accessories - Wikimedia
Iris claims that she was the first women ever to wear jeans. A jeans company was unwilling to sell them to her, but she finally persuaded them. She loves denim wear as a background to set off her huge chunky jewelry. Iris designed her own sneakers and wears smoking slippers which she made herself. At one outlet, she found two matching church vestments, took one apart and made a pair of slacks out of it. She has many multi-colored, geometric jackets which are highly attractive. She stated that she loves individuality which seems to be lost these days. Her philosophy is that outlandish clothing can be a cure for depression in young women, who can then develop a hobby which keeps them busy buying and coordinating their outfits, causing them to forget their troubles.
“Professor” Iris at UT in NYC
Iris currently teaches a class in Textiles and Apparel at the University of Texas in New York City. Students learn from her subject matter they didn’t realize existed, such as licensing, forecasting, public relations, buying, accessorizing, and style trends. They are far more prepared for their careers when they leave Iris’s class. She states “With me, it’s not intellectual; it’s all gut.”
Just recently, the Peabody Exhibition Museum hosted a fashion show that was a phenomenal success even though it relied on word of mouth to bring in customers. She started giving some of her personal pieces of clothing to the museum, starting with 89 pieces.
Jewelry Accessories - Pixabay
Iris is often introduced as “Manhattan’s Geriatric Starlet” or our “Octogenarian Starlet.” She has been on the cover of magazines and has been featured in Vogue Magazine. Bergdorf Goodman has her picture on their shopping bags which customers take out of the store and are seen by the public as they are carried down Fifth Avenue. The Wall Street Journal has done a piece on her. She has been interviewed on television and has an excitement about living. She loves being busy, and her secretary says she receives at least fifty phone calls a day. She said “People say I have a lot of energy, but it’s nothing compared to what I used to have.” One might be inclined to diagnose her with AHDH (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) since she has had these characteristics for her entire life.
When asked if she and Carl have any children, she answered “You can’t have everything. I wanted a career, and I wanted to travel. I didn’t want my child raised by a nanny.” She experienced thst in her own childhood.
The work ethic that she embraces stems from her middle-class upbringing in Queens during the depression in spite of the glamour and fantasy that she experiences in her career. She says: “I feel lucky to be working. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.”
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