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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Iris

The acclaimed documentary, Iris, is a must see for all you readers out there who are clothes horses and accessory aficionados, like me. Part performance artist/fashion icon/designer and stylist, Iris Apfel is a cultural phenomenon who came to fame as an octogenarian, identified by her unique combination of short white hair, large black-rimmed glasses, and eccentric attire. She is a national treasure with adoring fans from all ages, despite being over ninety years old.
Iris became a public persona in 2005, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York needed a quick substitute for a cancelled event. Through word of mouth, the directors discovered Iris and decided to feature her vast collection of couture clothing and jewelry as a one-woman-show. The rest is history; the show was a sensation and catapulted her to the position of fashion royalty. Bergdorf’s featured her in their 5th Avenue window, Filene’s had her presenting personal style makeovers, Martha Stewart hosted her on TV, and FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) had her teaching a highly sought after class of ambitions fashion students. In addition to the watches, jewelry, scarves, and personally designed smoking slippers sold on Home Shopping Network, even party stores sell Iris Halloween costumes for little girls. As of this publication, VOGUE magazine is featuring her latest exhibition at Le Bon Marche in Paris. It seems that the fashion world cannot get enough of Iris Apfel.
Surprisingly, this film has become one of my favorite feel-good flicks that encourages and inspires. There are two endearing themes that run through the story, the first being a classic underdog tale of a not-so-pretty girl with great style who emerged over the decades as one of the matriarchs of fashion and design. Iris tells the story of how she began her life many years ago as an interior designer for the New York elite, eventually landing a position as a White House decorator for several presidents. Over the years, her collection of furniture, clothing, jewelry, and fabrics has grown so large that numerous closets, rooms, additional apartments, and even designated storage facilities cannot contain the wonderful treasures gathered from Europe and all over the globe.
I loved watching Iris dress and put outfits together. Her clothes include designer originals, as well as shaman robes, African shepherd’s tunics, and even boy’s jeans. She accessorizes everything to the hilt, sometimes adding a million beads and five hundred bracelets (an exaggeration, of course), combining garage sale finds with couture collectibles that look fantastic together. Her most unique touch (other than the large black glasses) is layering necklaces in such a way that they appear as one seamless work of art. For the simple in style, her look will appear garish, but for someone like me, it is wonderful. For those of us who are inspired by Iris, the concept of “less is more” does not exist!
I also enjoyed watching Iris shop for hidden treasures. Her haunts include outdoor bazaars, specialty shops in Harlem, and the finest stores in New York. In addition, her witty quips and words of wisdom are more valuable than the baubles that adorn her frame; she eschews plastic surgery and has no time for “pretty.” To Iris Apfel, pretty only lasts a few years, but a unique STYLE lasts a lifetime.
The other endearing theme in the film is the great romance with her husband of over seventy years, Carl. Even as an elderly couple, they are as sweet as can be, still holding hands in the car, singing to each other, joking, and looking into each other’s eyes with affection. The beauty of their relationship is the support he gave her over the years to develop into an unusual artist. He allows her to dress him in paisley trousers, pink baseball caps, and animal print spectacles. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He adores everything about her, hangs on her every word, and watches her move about their palatial New York apartment filled with all sorts of collectibles. It touched my heart to hear him say that he always loved watching Iris take something old, plain, or discarded and turn it into something beautiful. I believe every serious artist (including writers) needs a Carl in their lives. Sadly, he passed away in 2015, but at the ripe ole age of over a hundred years old!
Iris Apfel is a true inspiration for any artist endeavoring to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable by the gatekeepers of the creative realm in which that artist operates. For a Christian writer, like me, her story encourages me to write what the Holy Spirit inspires without sacrificing character or plot to fit a plethora of man-made rules. The same would be true for any other creative person who feels constrained by what the world says is valuable.
Let Iris’s wonderful journey be a lesson to us all to be ourselves, pursue truth and excellence, and to never give up! It is never too late for those with a vision in their mind and a dream in their heart to see it manifested in all of its glory!

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