In the early moments of Iris, the documentary’s silver-haired star admires photos of her wedding in 1948, kicking up a wedge-heeled, ankle-strapped sandal.
“I still have these shoes, 66 1/2 years later,” says Iris Apfel, now 93. She still has the husband too, Carl Apfel, age 101, with whom she founded Old World Weavers, an interior design firm and textile company that decorated the White House under nine sitting US presidents. “I figured he was cool and he was cuddly, and he cooked Chinese,” she says. “So I couldn’t do any better.”
“I got a kick out of watching her make something beautiful,” says Carl. And that’s just what the late, legendary documentarian Albert Maysles‘ captures in his swan song, which comes out in theaters on April 29.
Apfel became a bonafide fashion icon in her 80s. For the aesthetically inclined, it’s a treat to watch her realize her glamorously wack-a-doodle visions, whether by furnishing her New York and Florida homes with Navajo kachina dolls, rococo furniture, and $2 teddy bears or layering herself in plumage, tapestry, beads, and denim—consistently topped with her thick, round-framed glasses.
It’s fun to watch Apfel get dressed—an improvisational process she compares to jazz—but the real joy is witnessing her collaborate with Carl: watching old 16mm films of the couple touring the world for textile inspiration, plopping a tiger-emblazoned, rivet-studded baseball cap on his head at a Florida swap meet, and spinning for him in a shop in a vintage Oscar de la Renta duster, as he looks on from a chair, singing: “That’s where my money goes, to buy my baby’s clothes.”
One of Maysles’ most famous documentaries, the 1975 film Grey Gardens, offers a similarly intimate look at the life of an eccentric pair. But while that film’s stars—Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie,” sequestered in their crumbling, cat-ridden East Hampton mansion—may leave viewers with complicated, uncomfortable feelings about codependency, Iris paints a colorful, richly textured portrait of creative collaboration and long-term love.
More than any of the fabulous possessions the Apfels have hunted down together, it’s their partnership that’s worthy of aspiration.
“You really don’t own anything while you’re here,” says Iris. “You just rent.”
What a wonderful reminder for Maysles to have left behind.