By Hannah Claire Pinnock, Arts Critic
IRIS is an engaging and truly witty documentary showcasing the life of Iris Apfler, one of those marvelously eccentric characters that seem to be unique to the New York fashion scene. Acclaimed documentarian Albert Maysles paired up with the 93-year-old to document her remarkable creativity and exceptional life in interior design and as a fashion icon.
Iris Apfler is an expressive dresser; her accessories would on anyone else seem superfluous. She manages to effortlessly create her look with a combination of high-end pieces that she has collected over her lifetime, the best of costume jewellery and inexpensive high street and market finds. Her look is always curated and yet appears entirely biological. It is undoubtably apparent that she “likes to improvise”. Her personality is embodied in her fashion sense, and the spectacle is as vibrant and unique as she is.
Iris expresses her dissatisfaction with the generic banality of much of mainstream fashion; she argues that when everyone dresses the same, it removes any individuality, any imagination. Yet she refuses to comment on how other individuals dress, saying that she is in no position to judge another for what they are wearing, if they are indeed comfortable- an attitude more of us might adopt.
Maysles’ approach to documentaries is known as direct cinema; it allows the story to be told exclusively through the characters it features; this technique also enables the structure of the film to be determined by the content. As a result the story unfolds through their amusing conversations and eccentric behavior, as Apfler and her husband Carl share their home and their lives with the viewer.
Their story of establishing the interior design company ‘Old World Weavers’, that was responsible for decorating The White House from Truman to Clinton, is rolled out over 90 minutes of film, punctuated throughout with Iris’ artistic drama. They are desperately fond of each other, the sheer affection and love between them is evident and shines through in their dialogue; of Carl, Iris confesses “I figured he was cool, he was cuddly and he cooked Chinese, so I couldn’t do any better!”.