More is more

Iris, doc­u­men­tary, rated PG-13, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Lau­rel Glad­den

Less is more, you say? Not if you’re New Yorker Iris Apfel, a devo­tee of wildly hued out­fits, over­sized glasses, and an abun­dance of ac­ces­sories. She’s the fo­cus of this slight, mostly light­hearted doc­u­men­tary from one of the masters of the genre, Al­bert Maysles, who with his brother David co-di­rected Gimme Shel­ter and Grey Gar­dens, among other films.

Iris would turn out to be his penul­ti­mate film be­fore his death in March of this year.

Apfel had a highly suc­cess­ful ca­reer in in­te­rior de­sign, help­ing more than one first lady re­dec­o­rate the White House. With her hus­band, Carl, she founded Old World Weavers, a com­pany that worked to re-cre­ate and pre­serve an­tique tex­tile pat­terns. Now, at ninety-three, she’s a self­de­scribed “geri­atric star­let” who’s set­tling into her new role as fash­ion icon and designer’s muse — you might rec­og­nize her from ad cam­paigns for Kate Spade and MAC Cos­met­ics. The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art’s Cos­tume In­sti­tute hon­ored her with a 2005-2006 ex­hibit, for which it bor­rowed many items from her closet and ac­ces­sories col­lec­tion.

Not much about Apfel is sub­tle — she com­bines col­or­ful, seem­ingly mis­matched items into “mad out­fits” and lay­ers on chunky neck­laces and clack­ing plas­tic bracelets by the dozen. But Iris isn’t a show­boat, ei­ther. She’s just a die-hard en­emy of con­form­ity, wear­ing jeans since the days when women weren’t sup­posed to and pre­fer­ring four-dollar trin­kets to some­thing from Harry Win­ston. “I like in­di­vid­u­al­ity,” she says. “It’s so lost th­ese days. There’s so much same­ness. Ev­ery­thing is ho­mog­e­nized.”

Apfel spends much of the film’s 80-some­thing min­utes shar­ing her thoughts on ev­ery­thing from per­sonal style (”When you don’t dress like every­body else, you don’t have to think like every­body else”) to aging (“You might come out look­ing like Pi­casso,” she says in op­po­si­tion to plas­tic surgery, and when peo­ple ask her how she’s do­ing, she re­sponds frankly, “I’m ver­ti­cal”). We get an in­side look at the Apfels’ car­ni­val-like apart­ment, filled to the brim with art, fur­ni­ture, sculp­ture, stuffed an­i­mals, and other knick­knacks from around the world. Be­tween cups of tea and shop­ping trips we share with her, there are talk­ing heads who sing her praises — in­clud­ing Harold Koda, cu­ra­tor in charge of the Met’s cos­tume in­sti­tute, renowned pho­tog­ra­pher Bruce We­ber, and the Apfels’ long­time house­keeper. Apfel and Maysles have an easy, friendly rap­port — she oc­ca­sion­ally ad­dresses him di­rectly, and he makes a few cameos.

While the film is mostly up­beat, it does have a sub­tle melan­cholic un­der­cur­rent. Carl turned one hun­dred dur­ing film­ing, and at times it’s clear she wor­ries about him. Iris ad­mits that mat­ters of health some­times keep her up at night. Still, it’s a plea­sure spend­ing this time with her, and we’d all do well to re­mem­ber a few of her nuggets of wis­dom. While she doesn’t dis­pense fi­nan­cial ad­vice, when Iris Apfel talks, peo­ple should lis­ten.

A rare bird: Iris Apfel

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