‘Geriatric starlet’

Legendary documentarian Albert Maysles profiles fashion icon Iris Apfel

Opens Friday, June 12. Directed by Albert Maysles. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

Iris Apfel is a New Yorker, a designer/collector/celebrity, and an icon of contemporary fashion. She celebrated her 90th birthday a couple of years ago, and yet—in her own distinctive, semi-eccentric way—she remains very “au courant.” She is, by her own reckoning, “a geriatric starlet.”

Apfel is the charmingly frisky subject of this shrewd, genial documentary by the late Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), and by Maysles’ reckoning, the geriatric starlet is even more remarkable than that amusingly oxymoronic label might suggest.

A couple of commentators/interviewees speak of her as a flamboyantly independent creative force operating in the conjoined territories of art, interior design and high fashion.

Maysles gives close attention to her improvised creations of jewelry, clothing and other accessories using materials found in her roving tours of marketplaces in the U.S. and abroad.

Maysles builds the portrait via comments from a variety of sources—fashion designers, a museum director, a wry-humored nephew, longtime Apfel housekeeper Inez Bailey, photographer Bruce Weber, and Iris’ husband, Carl Apfel. The latter, clearly a kindred spirit, celebrates his 100th birthday in the course of Maysles’ filming.

Weber is particularly incisive, as when he speaks (warmly) of a toy- and game-filled Apfel residence as “the perfect house—for two children.” But most of the best remarks come from Iris herself. “Color can raise the dead,” she says at one rather self-reflective point. And she’s talking to Weber when she digresses from fashion talk to say, “It’s better to be happy than to be well-dressed.”

Carl and Iris, those two ageless playmates, never had children. Why not? Iris answers: “You can’t do everything. Something has to give. And sometimes it’s you.”