Thursday, May 21, 2015

Iris is an Eyeful

I just saw "Iris", the documentary by Albert Maysles. I had to do it quickly as it's scheduled to end its one-week run today. There were few people in the theatre, so that might be why. All eight of us enjoyed it immensely. I was the first to leave. The others stayed as if there might be more.

This won't be a movie review although in general the reviews were positive. "Iris" won't change your life or inspire you to give it up and move to Park Avenue. Her life is unique and in many ways charmed (as in charm bracelets).

I did feel like I spent 90 minutes with a wicked-smart woman who was not in any way playing to the camera. She is not a delightfully daffy Diana Vreeland type. I call that the Holly Golightly effect— she honestly believed all that crazy stuff she believed. Iris is calls it like she sees it, and is self-deprecating enough to soften any sting.

The gift of Iris Apfel is that at 93 she is still sharp as a tack with the confidence to be exactly who she is. Most of us spend a good part of our lives searching for that. As children we just assume we will grow up into someone. As adults we realize we never "grow up", and life is a journey of learning and experiences— or should be. With the luck of good health, favorable finances and some undefined fairy dust, Iris has that.

We don't learn much about her early life, other than she was an only child whose parents both worked and she bought her first bracelet in Greenwich Village when she was 13. That's really okay as Iris sprang to life in 2005 after an exhibit of her clothing and accessories at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was an interesting story recalled by Harold Koda of the Met in the film.

An (unnamed) sponsored major exhibit dropped out at the last minute, and the Met needed something to take its place— fast. Harold knew Iris socially through her work as an interior designer and owner of Old World Weavers, a firm specializing in replicating historic fabrics for little cottages like the White House. She had always been a thoroughbred clothes horse with, as he said, "one of the top two collections of couture costume jewelry in the world." The idea was to show her collection with a few examples on mannequins wearing her clothes. The rest— as they say— is herstory. The show broke records, travelled to other museums and made Iris into "a geriatric starlet".

Iris at the Met, 2005

So I love her and loved the film. You got that, right? Here's where I hesitatingly admit two things I kept thinking throughout. Iris has time to do everything but eat. She is so painfully thin that some of her wonderful clothes just kind of flap around on her. She is in remarkable physical health for 93 but just looks so frail... I wondered if perhaps she doesn't enjoy food, which would be a shame.

The other thing is I was — gulp— rather taken aback by her over-decorated homes. Not over-decorated with treasures, mind you, but "junque" like cheesy stuffed animals and Christmas decorations left up for 8 months. Sometimes it was hard to tell if we were in her apartment or storage facility. She actually has another apartment just for clothes. And maybe— just maybe— there are too many. Iris is able to curate an outfit so perfectly— what to add, what to remove— that I was a trifle disappointed she isn't able to do that at home.

I love you, Iris, and love that you let us into your amazing world. So why do I feel like the child who cried out that the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes?

It was a trip, Iris

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