MIFF Review - Iris

Words - Melissa Forsyth of Neon Nonsense Photos - Courtesy of MIFF

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MIFF Review - Iris

Iris Apfel, the 93-year-old businesswoman, interior designer and fashion icon is the subject of the Albert Maysles documentary, Iris - showing at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2015. I first came across Iris in Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about the New York Times contributor and fashion photographer. Arbiters of taste from the arts, fashion and media were interviewed during this documentary, but Iris is the one I remember most. Layers of costume jewellery and her oversized round glasses make Iris impossible to forget.

An interior designer by trade, Iris first rose to prominence in the 1950’s when she opened textiles business Old World Weavers with her husband Carl. Together they decorated presidential and stately homes across America, introducing colour, pattern and texture into some of the most important homes. Iris and Carl traveled the world for their clients in search of unique fabrics and prints. Travel exposed to Iris to fashion, costume and art, and allowed her to collect some of her most unusual pieces.

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In 2005, after a last minute cancellation of a major exhibition, directors at The Metropolitan Museum of Art approached Iris about exhibiting a few key pieces from her extensive wardrobe and costume jewellery collection. The exhibition, with little to no PR or marketing, was a huge success and went on to tour America. Iris, then in her 80’s became a fashion IT girl. Named the geriatric starlet and rare bird of fashion, Iris and her rebellious sense of style lead the way for other senior supermodels, Joan Didion for Celine, Charlotte Rampling for Nars and Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent. Highlights from the documentary include watching Iris haggle over cheap bracelets in Harlem, and seeing modern day fashion and cultural heroes Jenna Lyons and Kayne West lose their minds when they meet her.

There are also a few life lessons. I learnt that individual style takes commitment. Iris recalls the process of buying her first piece of costume jewellery at age 10, scouring her favourite vintage store for days until she found perfect piece accessory. She saved then haggled to become the proud owner of a 65-cent broach. This same process continues today, Iris still selects every piece of clothing and jewellery herself, explaining to the audience that you can’t stop looking, researching, and experimenting. You have to get out there and continue to explore.

Iris is more than a fashion documentary. Through Iris we get to explore ideas about beauty, ageing, love and self-acceptance. Frieda Loehmann of Loehmann’s department store famously told a young Iris, ‘You're not pretty and you'll never be pretty, but it doesn't matter. You have something much better. You have style.’ A defining moment, Iris remarks at the end of the film that she doesn’t like pretty. Pretty fades. Pretty is boring.

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Check out Iris and more at MIFF 2015.

For more from Melissa, check out her blog Neon Nonsense HERE!

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