irisThe late great Albert Maylses is still able to awe us from the grave, as proven by the posthumous debut of Iris. The documentary serves as a character study of style maven Iris Apfel.  An extremely successful interior designer who made a fortune importing and manufacturing rare textiles, she traveled the world collecting rare and vintage fashion materials and accessories.  Famous for utilizing both chic designer pieces and kitschy knick-knacks she stumbles upon in her travels, she has created a signature look of loud and flamboyant outfits, all of which are tied together by her large, coke bottle glasses perched on her dainty head.  Her collection gained a small following, which culminated in The Museum of Modern Arts calling her in a pinch asking to put her collection on display.  “Iris Patel, Rare Bird of Fashion” thrust Iris into the spotlight, a phenomena the 93 year old firecracker is taking in stride.

The film is an episodic look into her life.  We watch her shop for famous treasures deep within the caverns of Soho and little Ethiopia.  She holds an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, claiming that she’s seen everything come and go.  “If you hang around long enough,” she quips, “everything comes back.”  The self-described “geriatric starlet” attends elite social events where she rubs shoulders with the likes of Kanye, who actually approaches her to compliment her style.  Famed photographer Bruce Webber has found her to be his new muse, and the images he creates of her have graced the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Dazed and Confused.  She seems to be adored everywhere she goes.  From designing window displays for Gimbels, to teaching college students the ins and outs of fashion, people hang onto her every word.

The most touching moments are watching her interact, or should I say spar, with her 100 year old husband. The two parry and thrust with their razor sharp wits much to the enjoyment of the audience, both in the theatre and those who interact with them in the film.  She is the fire in the relationship and seems to carry the weight of it on her shoulder in her partners advanced age. She falls and breaks her hip, but the only reason we find this out is because she asks the filmmaker not to tell her husband, as she had been lying to him so as not to cause worry.  It is not clear if her husband ever becomes aware of her medical condition, but what is clear is the fiery love and fierce protection that Iris harbors towards him.

The charismatic every woman is a great role model for young girls.  Giving up the idea of children for the sake of her career as an exotic textiles importer, she embodied the idea of the 21st century woman while still in the 20th.  In a candid moment, she explains she never thought herself attractive in her youth, but found that dedication to personal style made a louder splash than looks ever could.  That attitude coupled with the hard-nosed work ethic forged in the fires of her Depression-era Queens neighborhood helped her become a shrewd business woman as well as widely respected style guru.  Maysles has crafted a beautiful portrait in this piece.  He can be seen in a few shots operating a camera (he served as cinematographer as well as director).  One can’t help but think that the producers went out of their way to include him so as to give the audience a glimpse at a master doing what he loved for the last time.