A while back, one of my patients shared with me the story of Iris Apfel. She and her husband had watched a documentary on Netflix that featured Apfel and I was more than impressed with the enthusiasm that not only she, but also her husband shared for Iris’ personal style.
Enjoy the official trailer for the Magnolia Pictures film Iris by Albert Maysles.
Iris Apfel, a retired business woman, interior designer and fashion aficionado, rose to fame in 2005 when a small selection of fashionable pieces she’d collected over her, then, 84 years was featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though her fame came later, her successes include a textile firm Old World Weavers (1952-1990) and interior design work at the White House under Presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Her point of view is maddeningly unique and at 91 years during the filming of this documentary, there is a spark inside of her that is wildly contagious. She represents herself with each piece she dons and does so with enthusiasm and confidence.
Now in my early thirties, my fashion sense is ever evolving and I’m still defining myself as an adult woman. I’m past the carefree college years and the fun, early, post college years and am moving toward more responsible times. The self awareness Apfel displays is exemplary. As I learn more about myself and the woman I wish to portray to the world, I find Iris’ attitude toward fashion and her refusal to be bullied out of the fashion world via the popularity contest and emphasis on youth that so heavily saturates the industry. Iris speaks out about how the fashion world is missing out on the over 60 age bracket even though life span of the average woman goes well into her eighties. If you think about it, articles about how to dress for your age are helpful for the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, usually 50’s and if you’re lucky a small blurb on 60’s, but after that…? Do we lose all ability to express ourselves though fashion after 60? I hope not. I aspire to be my own version of Iris well into my later days.
I enjoyed what she said when asked if she’s ever judged others for their fashion choices, “I can’t judge them. It’s better to be happy than to be well dressed.” I try to use this website as a medium for others to find what’s important to them within the world of fashion and to find the confidence to reject the things they find unimportant. Going confidently and happily into the world is far sexier than any brand or beauty trick.
Through dealing with chronic illness and pain, I have an understanding of what it is like to drag myself out of bed, though there are 60 years between Iris and me. Apfel says, “Everything I have two of hurts.” She talks about how she’s not going to throw in the towel because getting herself out of bed and shopping around for the pieces that bring her joy is better than any medicine that comes in a child proof bottle. I can agree with that. There’s also a sense of normalcy that comes from getting yourself in the shower, putting on your makeup, fixing your hair and just going through your normal routine. If you are a person who hasn’t yet reached the age where everything hurts and you can’t relate to my experience either, think about when you’re ill and you finally feel pretty terrible still, but well enough to get yourself through your routine; how much better do you feel after? This is what Iris does. No matter how she’s feeling, she shows the world who she is every day as though it is an opportunity worth seizing. She expresses that the day she stops doing so is the day she stops living.
Throughout the film, we see Apfel teaching college students, inspiring women with a mere curiosity of fashion, but no real sense of fashion identity and appearing at a myriad of fashion events always with her poignantly chic signature look. We see inspiring moments with complete strangers. Though she is a formidable woman who knows herself and stays true to herself, it’s almost delightful to see her fall silent and just experience emotion. She speaks of her willingness to age because on her wrinkled face, she sees her memories and feels her past for its joys and sorrows. One can appreciate the lingering emotions on her face at times throughout the film as her face displays a life long lived and an admirable perseverance ahead.
I’m taken aback and beyond flattered that my patient and her husband were commenting that, while my glasses don’t exactly resemble the saucer sized beauties through which Iris sees the world, they reminded them both of her. I will do my best to spend my days not filling the shoes of Iris Apfel, but making sure my shoes are worthy of being filled. I want to leave behind a legacy of fashion and self expression.
If I see further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. –Isaac Newton 1676