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Iris Apfel -Film Review

November 14, 2015

Watching an old lady go shopping, you would think, makes for a very dull film. Yet not this old lady, nor this film. In this film Iris Apfel is 93, and a living fashion legend.

Iris Apfel -Film Review

If you have any interest in fashion, you will have spotted Iris Apfel’s face around in the last few years – with her huge round glasses and bright red lips it’s hard to forget. She has starred in campaigns for Mac Cosmetics lately, and been a cover model for Dazed Magazine. But it’s not just her face that it famous – it’s her incredible sense of style, growing bolder by the years, it seems.

Iris Apfel – Solo exhibition

When she was 89, Iris Apfel had a fashion exhibition at the Costume Institute of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled Rare Bird of Fashion: the Irreverent Iris Apfel . Mannequins modelled her favourite outfits, which consist of brightly coloured layers of outrageous jackets paired with slim trousers, accessorised with good shoes (flat slippers, usually), clanking bracelets to the forearm and absolutely massive beads arranged in layers round her neck. Often she plays with texture by adding a fur wrap, draped diagonally across the torso or held in the hand so as not to spoil the line.


The exhibition came about almost by accident – Iris Apfel has an unrivalled collection of couture costume jewellery which she often lends to the Met. When an exhibition fell through at extremely short notice, Stéphane Houy-Towner, one of the curators thought maybe they could have a dedicated show of her collection. But wait, wouldn’t it be more fun to show the jewellery as Iris herself wore it, in context with her clothes? And so Rare Bird of Fashion was born, which was all about Iris Apfel’s style. The exhibition, which had little budget for publicity, was a hit and travelled to three different locations. She is currently donating clothes to a permanent exhibition of her clothing in Florida.

Early career

Iris Apfel originally made her name and fortune as an interior designer, working for amongst others, the White House. The film shows photographs her adoring husband Albert took of her during their married life together, as they travelled around the world looking for rare and unusual pieces for their clients. The snaps show Iris as stylish, but not the outrageous fashion icon she is today.


Not that we’re talking a Lady Gaga kind of out-to-shock-ness. No coats made of stuffed teddies here, or meat dresses. Iris Apfel likes colour, but the pieces are put together harmoniously. The most shocking part is perhaps her casual willingness to wear and even alter sacred garments – she was on a streak of collecting Christian vestments at one time, she says, showing us a gorgeous green silk piece embroidered in gold, and at another time she is seen wearing a Chinese Buddhist coat – it came with a hood but she didn’t like it so cut it off, she casually explains.

The happy shopper

However, she doesn’t just go shopping in places of religious worship. She often mentions the names of couture designers which she shops for, and the camera also follows Iris Apfel as she goes shopping for traditional African clothes in Harlem, and haggles with car boot sale traders. For these expeditions she is thankfully dressed down – it’s quite nice to see that she isn’t obsessively devoted to her high maintenance look. In fact, she half jokes about a particular set of jewellery, it is so heavy that she only wears it if she knows she’ll be taking it off in half an hour.


In fact Iris Apfel is pretty spry, going to a constant round of meetings, talks and appearances. She reckons that when you get older, everything hurts and you just have to get on with it. And so she does.