Iris Apfel’s iconic style is rocket fuel for free spirits – it exemplifies the stereotype-smashing power of inventiveness and the magnetism of defiantly following your creative instincts.
The final work of the late, great documentary maker Albert Maysles is a riveting profile of the legendary 94-year-old, who is adamantly ‘NOT a fashionsta’ and does not want to be known ‘just for getting dressed’. Maysles’ film is a tribute to the many manifestations of Iris’ insatiable curiosity, extracted from footage accumulated over a period of almost four years (by Iris’ estimate there’s enough material to make three more documentaries).
Watch for insight into Iris’ shopping habits, a tender portrait of her marriage and a surprising interaction with Kanye West.
For the record, Iris has no favourite scenes: ‘I mean, it’s like saying, ‘Who is your favourite child?’’
ELLE telephoned Iris at her New York home where she answered more questions with disarming directness while drinking coffee to keep her awake (she’d just got off the plane from Palm Beach).
Do you understand why people find your style so fascinating?
No. I can never figure it out because I’m not doing anything different to what I did seventy years ago. People always seemed to like it; but they never seemed to make such a fuss about it. I mean, I’m very grateful – after all, how many 90-year-old cover girls are there?
What’s your current favourite accessory?
I don’t live in a world of favourites. I see what I like when I like it. I get it and accumulate it.
How do you store all your things?
Very badly. I’ve got so much stuff I couldn’t possibly see it all at once. It’s all over the place. Some things I have I forget about, and thirty or forty years later I say ‘Oh my god, that would go perfect with this!’ It’s like shopping in my own boutique.
How do you assemble outfits?
I have no rules and regulations. I just work completely by my gut. I was a hunter-gatherer in a former existence and it’s process that I like, the creativity. I like the digging and the finding. And I like putting things together. Somebody once said they had a much better time getting dressed and ready for the party than going to the party and that’s the way I feel.
Whose opinion about what you wear is important to you?
The only two people my whole life that I’ve paid attention to are my husband and my mother. If they heartily disliked something or it offended them, I would not wear it. I’m not a rebel. I don’t dress to cause attention or to upset anybody. I dress to please myself, and I hope I please other people. And if I do I’m very happy and if not, it’s their problem, not mine.
Do you remember the first fashion accessory you were excited about?
Yes. I’ve been collecting accessories since I was 11 years old. I was a very precocious young one. I lived just outside Manhattan and used to take Thursday afternoons off from school. For five cents, you could travel all of New York on the subway. So each week I would go to another section: China Town, Harlem, Greenwich Village. I seemed to take a particular fancy to Greenwich Village and kept going back. I found this shop in a basement with a very interesting little old gentleman. I was fascinated and he treated he me like a mini duchess. He wore spats and he kissed my hand. He had a brooch made of an old button, it was just beautiful. I took quite a fancy to it. I was kid, I had no money but he let me have it for a magnificent sum of 65 cents. I still have it to this day.
Five of our favourite Apfel-isms from Iris
‘I don’t have any rules because I would only be breaking them so it’s a waste of time. With me it’s not intellectual, it’s all gut. I see something - oh that will go with this, I’ll try it on, it’s the involvement and the process. It’s the process I like better than wearing it.’
‘The population of Harlem has much more style. Downtown they think they’re stylish, they all wear black. That’s not really style, that’s a uniform.’
‘Every time I do it [put an outfit together], I do it a different way. I like individuality, it’s so lost these days. There’s so much sameness these days, everything is homogenised.’
‘The [wedding] dress was pink lace. I wanted a dress I could wear after the wedding and not just put in a box. I still have these shoes, 66 and a half years later. They are pale pink satin. If you hang around long enough, everything comes back.’
‘I’m an Octogenarian Starlet. I think that’s fun!’
Iris is in cinemas in August