Iris Apfel Hates Loss Of Individuality In Fashion & Rejects Importance of 'Pretty'


Iris Apfel’s documentary ‘Iris’ has opened in select theaters a month and a half after the death of director Albert Maysles of ‘Grey Gardens’ fame.

Vanity Fair writes that without the fashion icon Apfel, now 93, we would not be seeing the rise of the senior ‘supermodel’ (another abuse of the word): Joan Didion for Céline, Charlotte Rampling for Nars, Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Joni Mitchell for Yves Saint Laurent. Apfel herself is the new face of Kate Spade.

Iris Apfel’s roots go back to the young woman from Queens, New York, with big dreams for a career in the fashion industry. In a truth serum moment that would result in modern parents arriving for a confrontation about crushing their child’s ego, Frieda Loehmann, founder of the famed department store told Apfel:

You’re not pretty and you’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. You have something much better. You have style.

Paying tribute, says that Apfel is our leading ambassador for the ‘fashion of chance: the idea that good taste isn’t aspirational but realized on the fly, that more can be done with well-layered costume jewelry and a one-of-a-kind poncho than with all the season’s must-have fare.’

Iris envisions getting dressed as akin to playing jazz — a ‘sartorial safari’ and wild fun that celebrates individuality. In this fashion icon’s playbook, style isn’t about pleasing other people. “It’s better to be happy than well-dressed.” Not one to mince words, Apfel laments fashion’s uniformity. “I think it’s very sad… . People are being robbed of their imaginations—and everything else—with this button-pushing culture we have.”

Apfel shares that she had the opportunity to take a course with Margaret Mead. Also, she had a fabulous art course, “where it was explained to me that nothing exists in a vacuum, that everything is a result of the period in which it’s done—the economics, the sociology, the politics, all sewn together. That was a very important lesson.”

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Iris’ relationship with her husband, 100, obviously adores her. After six decades of marriage, they still hold hands in the back of the cab. “I figured he was cool, he was cuddly, and he cooked Chinese, so I couldn’t do any better,” Apfel says lovingly. For his part, Carl says “It’s not a dull marriage, I can tell you that.”

The duo were business partners, founding Old World Weavers which gave Apfel the credentials to do interior design work at the White House for presidents from Truman to Clinton.

The documentary ‘Iris’ is an excellent argument for fashion as art, writes Indie Wire. The review continues:

‘Iris’ will be most interesting to fans of fashion, but it’s not a documentary that excludes those unfamiliar with its subject matter. If appearances from Dries Van Noten, Alexis Bittar, and Tavi Gevinson mean little to the uninitiated, there’s always the gushing meeting with Kanye West to drive home Iris’ cultural impact. J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons shows a few times, popping up at the CFDA Fashion Awards and Carl’s 100th birthday party. Iris’ style may seem over the top for daily wear, but it’s not hard to see her influence on brands and people like Lyons, with a mixture of high and low, as well as a heap of statement jewelry.

As for the ‘not pretty’ part of her history, Iris Apfel is cool about it, telling director Maysles:

I never felt pretty, I don’t feel pretty now; I’m not a pretty person. I don’t like pretty, so I don’t feel badly. And I think it worked out well, because … when you’re somebody like myself, in order to get around and be attractive, you have to develop something, you have to learn something, and have to do something, so you become a bit more interesting. And when you get older, you get by on that. Anyway, I don’t happen to like pretty. Most of the world is not with me, but I don’t care.