Do you ever wonder how you’ll dress if you make it to a really old age? I figure I could go in a couple of directions. Part of me thinks it would be so nice to just stop caring about appearances and dress purely for comfort in trackies, fleece and uggs. No more heels, no pinchy waistbands, no itchy collars or scratchy fabric or sucked-in belly or too-tight pants. Just lovely stretchy knits and elastic waistbands – day and night; day in, day out.
But another part of me hopes to be one of those glorious old ladies who makes every effort to look amazing, who mix and mash prints and colours and textures and eras, piling it all on together with a tonne of costume jewellery, a turban and red lipstick, no longer giving a shit about any rules. And always managing to be the brightest bird in the room.
I suspect there are plenty of role models for option one (in my neighbourhood, at least). For option two there’s Iris Apfel – the ultimate icon for more-is-more dressing, whatever your age. And judging from the documentary, Iris, if I have any chance of even trying to emulate her look – I should have started collecting amazing things when I was 12.
For our friends in the Northern hemisphere, this film’s been doing the rounds for a while now. But it’s only recently screened at a few festivals in Australia, so we went along to learn more about Iris, and get some style tips from the master.
Iris Apfel has had a high-profile creative career spanning decades, but it’s only in the last 10 years that she’s found proper fame, kick-started by an exhibit of her incredible couture and jewellery collection at the Met Museum’s Costume Institute in 2005. One of the early stars of Advanced Style, she’s spent her 80s and early 90s being lauded for her outfits, starring in clothing campaigns and on the cover of magazines, collaborating with cosmetics and fashion houses. She’s a regular at all the big shows, her iconic owl glasses making her instantly recognisable in the sea of serious front-row faces.
This documentary, the last by the legendary Albert Maylses, offers a quiet insight into Iris’s life and personality; and reveals not only a formidable stylist and clotheshorse but a totally modern, thoughtful, curious and funny woman. I loved her musings about individuality, ageing, cosmetic surgery (‘Why mess?’), beauty versus style, women ‘having it all’, the intersection of history, art and fashion, and the many merits of denim – it’s all there. She talks a bit about the hard work of being a collector, but more about the FUN of it – she clearly derives so much joy from getting dressed each day (with three apartments crammed full of clothes and jewellery, where would you start?) and her outfits are true works of art.
The film features interviews and encounters with a host of Iris’s fashion friends, and I must say there’s something quite satisfying about watching these too-cool types fall to pieces around her. J-Crew’s Jenna Lyons literally gushes (and she’s never struck me as the gushy type); Tavi Gevinson is in awe, and there’s a lot of love from Dries van Noten, Bruce Weber and Naeem Khan to name a few. Everybody loves Iris.
Away from all the action, at the heart of this little film is the beautiful relationship between Iris and her husband, Carl. It’s so poignant and sad to watch now, knowing that he recently passed away. Theirs is a true love story – partners in life, work, creativity, travel and consumer excess, they clearly adore each other (she calls him ‘pussycat’; he dotes on his ‘child bride’) and he is happy to play the supporting role in later life to her crazy fame. They’re such a great team.
I could watch the footage of Iris accessorising an outfit ten dozen times – it’s such a great masterclass in how to work with jewellery. And while I don’t think I’ll achieve her look if I live to be 200, this film may at least have saved me from a future of endless tracksuits. The alternative just looks like much more fun.