IRIS Apfel-superJumbo
Photo: Bruce Weber

Everyone loves Iris. And so do I. In the late Albert Maysles film, designers, editors and fashion executives are falling all over themselves to orbit the ‘geriatric starlet’. If you love life and style, you’ll love this heartwarming documentary (out in the UK, today; Fri 25 July 2015). Iris was one of the ‘Inspirational Women’ I interviewed for my book, calling her up in New York and hearing her nasally, ‘Hello Ap-fel residence,’ on the other end of the line was one of my highlights. She’s sharp, she’s no-nonsense and she’s full of life. Iris the movie is as colourful and brilliant as one of the New York nonagenarian’s crazy outfits.

From the opening soundtrack – the sound of Iris’ jewellery jangling – we go behind-the-scenes in New York and Palm Beach. ‘It’s a total trip. It’s always Christmas here,’ says photographer Bruce Weber as the camera pans to a toy Kermit the Frog sitting on an ostrich in the New York pad. The couple, who’ve been married for 67 years are absolutely wonderful together; warm and funny and very loving. ‘He was cool, he was cuddly and he cooked Chinese,’ she quips. ‘It’s never a dull marriage. You never know what’s going to happen with this kid,’ adds 100-year-old Carl, ‘She’s very talented, I think I’ll keep her.’

Photo: Rex
Photo: Rex

Just how remarkable the soon-to-be 94-year-old woman is hits home when you see her shopping, in a wheelchair, with the designer Duro Olowu. It’s not all baubles and soundbites, husband Carl is not very well with a coronary issue, but Apfel ‘lives in the present’ and does so with humour. She tells a tale about the Rare Bird of Fashion exhibition, where her nephew overhears visitors assuming she’s dead,’ I told him to tell them “My auntie is very much alive. She’s just walking around to save funeral expenses.”‘


It’s a fantastic film, a real joy, and *spoiler alert* here are some my favourite Apfel-isms:

‘My mother worshipped at the alter of accessories. She could do things with a scarf that I have never seen anyone do.’

On plastic surgery, ‘Oh god no, I’m very opposed to that, unless god gave you a nose like Pinocchio or you’re in a fire. You could come out looking like a Picasso.’

‘Colour is so important. Colour can raise the dead.’

‘Carl is very happy to be sailing into his second century.’

When asked regularly how she is, Iris’s response is always, ‘Well, I’m vertical so I’m happy.’ What an amazing woman.

15 thoughts on “The Iris Apfel documentary

  1. I stopped at spoiler alerts because I definitely will Netflix this one day. I love seeing and hearing about the lives of smart, interesting older people; especially those well past 80. They are so much more real, understand life better, and have long outgrown the petty nonsense such and just tell you what they think.

  2. Interview with her on Newsnight this week (UK) hilarious. A true mistress of the ‘one liners’.

    What a mind… as a tack.

  3. Hi Alyson,
    I totally loved this film, what an inspiration Iris is. She is a true revolutionary and doesn’t give a damn about following any fashion rules. What a wonderful warm character she is and her relationship with her husband is adorable. I came out of the cinema feeling a new spring in my step at the age of 51, anything is possible, Iris is proof that age is just a number!

  4. That’s so true, GSL.

    I saw it olderbutwiser -love Steven Smith anyway & thought he was fantastic with Iris. Brilliant!

    Agree, Karen. They are so lovely together and so inspirational.

  5. I can’t wait to see it. I first saw her on Advanced Style and loved seeing her and admiring her joie de vivre. Hope I’m like that if I’m blessed to make it to then. Love Iris Apfel.

  6. Iris Apfel is SO fabulous! I met her once shopping the “Posh on Park” sale at the armory; she was carrying a ginormous armload of clothes on hangers while we briefly spoke. I LOVE her style, especially her accessorizing with those wonderful beads and oversized jewelry! She reminds me so much of Mrs. Vreeland in the “Fashion Icon” sense; their personal style of dresssing is much different. I can attest to that, truthfully, as I was Mrs. Vreeland’s personal assistant/shopper on twenty-four hours a day call 1979-1986, and from 1986-1989 I would read her fashion articles and items of interest keeping her abreast. Mrs. Vreeland’s personal style was not as flamboyant as Iris Apfel’s is; her fabulous flamboyance was in her work as a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, as Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, and as the founder of the Costume Institute at the Met, its exhibitions, and its yearly Gala celebrating her incredibly curated exhibitions. That said, respectfully, I think that Mrs. Vreeland should also have the honor of having something named after her like Anna Wintour currently and most deservedly has. Without Mrs. Vreeland establishing the Costume Institute in the first place, Anna Wintour might not be involved with the museum.

  7. Hello Sue, thanks for your comment. And wow, what a fantastic job – bet you’ve got a few tales to tell (?) When I was watching the film I was reminded of Diana Vreeland; not by Iris’ clothes but by her witty soundbites. There is definitely a similarity. Also, if Diana Vreeland hadn’t established the Costume Institute the world might not have discovered Iris Apfel!

    1. Thanks for your reply! I am so looking forward to seeing this documentary. When and where is it opening in New York?

  8. I’m not a hater. I love the whole “advanced style” movement. Bravo. And I saw the movie which honestly, was a bit too long. Don’t get me wrong, I love Iris and I love her style. She’s cool and obviously it’s worked very well for her. But let’s face it. She’s an upscale hoarder. She has racks upon racks of clothing. So much so, I believe it has to be stored in various places around town. She has stacks and stacks of jewelry. Endless beads of every shape, size and color. Cuffs. Bracelets. Everything in droves. The question is, when is enough stuff, enough? Honestly, it’s excessive to say the least. And all this stuff won’t fix anyone or make most of us ‘fashionable’. And yes, after seeing the movie, did I want to go out to the nearest flea market and root around for treasures? Of course. I wish I would have seen a more ‘giving’ side of Iris. Stuff, stuff and more stuff isn’t the answer.

  9. I so much agree with Jane.

    Also being rich sure helps. How is a working person or even a well paid professional can amass such stuff and rub elbow to elbow with the designers? It is all a curated and well designed fantasy. i think most older women will look so out of place if they are dressed this way, NOT walking on Fifth Avenue and NOT attending this ball or that gala.

  10. I saw the film at our local art museum this summer with daughters and a few granddaughters. SIris is such ann inspiration. Love, love, LOVED it!!

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