Magnificently extravagant, couture maven Iris Apfel talks clothes,life, and working with the late filmmaker Albert Maysles.
Few individuals can fit the description of fashion guru, iconoclast, and snappy wit like Iris Apfel. The focus of the last project by filmmaker and documentarian Albert Maysles who died in March 2015, at the age of 88, Iris is everything that her legend describes. Honest, flamboyant, and wholeheartedly honest about her longtime addiction to flea markets and thrift stores, of which her husband Carl is also a major beneficiary. Apfel has for many years, rubbed elbows with major players in the game, such as jeweler Alexis Bittar for who she was the face of his Spring 2015 catalog. Iris delightfully claims that one of her favorite designers is the American designer James Galanos, recognized as one of the most prominent couturiers of the 20th century. “I was so disappointed when a fashion student didn’t know who he was” she said sadly after the screening of her documentary “Iris” in Lake Worth’s Stonzek Theater, In Maysles documentary, Apfel bluntly states that she was once told she would never be beautiful, but that she had grand eye for fashion. She took this to heart, and developed an emblematic style that no would dare deny is daring as much as it is original. “I was one of the first women to wear jeans”, she says proudly. This puts her in the books as one of the pioneers for feminism in women’s fashion, and a true believer of harboring her own taste when it came to clothes.
Iris Apfel answering questions for the audience at the Stonzek Theater Q&A. Photo: Adriana Delgado
Apfel doesn’t believe in slowing down. She keeps voraciously busy, taking part in projects that warm up to her love of fashion, such as the continuous work with the Costume Institute in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in addition to dividing her time between Manhattan and Palm Beach. Coincidentally, it was in Florida that Maysle’s documentary on her life screened to a successful two-week run at Lake Worth’s Stonzek Theater, a small but quaint annex to the historic Lake Worth playhouse located in the city of the same name, and an abode to an enthusiastic art house crowd. Apfel was present at the screening on Sunday June 14th, and stayed afterwards for a prolonged Q&A. Here, the audience had the unique opportunity to meet the legend behind the glasses as she answered unabashed questions about her life, work and extensive wardrobe, while elegantly sidestepping some injudicious ones, such as when an inopportune audience member imprudently asked her “Do you believe in God?” Apfel’s answer: “No one has asked me that question before. How strange” and graciously moved on to the next person. Nothing seemed to be off limits, with the exception of Iris and Carl’s time restoring the fabrics at the White House, and their experience working with former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. In Maysles documentary, Carl is heard almost whispering of an awkward situation with Jackie, before Iris sternly cut him off. In person, she repeated the same feat, politely telling a curious inquisitor: “We don’t talk about that”.
Iris lovingly placing her hand on her husband of sixty-seven years, Carl Apfel, as she answers questions from an enthralled audience. Photo: Adriana Delgado
Apfel honestly confesses that if she’s not working, she doesn’t really get dressed in much pomposity. “I just wear jeans, or these things, what are they called…tights!” she said pulling on a pair of surprisingly simple black leggings she had on. “I really don’t bother”. Apfel says. Her casual individuality when choosing her wardrobe is unequivocally what makes her style unique. She follows no fashion but her own, although she adamantly states that she has loved all trends, but particularly the ones from the 50’s and 60’s, which is conceivably obvious if one glances upon her impossibly round eyeglasses and brightly colored necklaces. At ninety-five years young, Iris Apfel is a force to be reckoned with, and will predictably continue to be so for years to come.
Iris Apfel outside the Stonzek Theater in Lake Worth, Florida where her documentary “Iris” was screened. Photo: Adriana Delgado