We need a new word for icon. As Iris Apfel approaches the middle of her 10th decade (!), she’s crushing it in ways most youngsters can only dream of: she’s a perennial street style darling, she’s modelled alongside Karlie Kloss and Tavi Gevinson, and she’s had her own exhibit at the MET. Now she’s the subject of a new documentary, IRIS, the last film of legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter). Imagine picking up the phone knowing it’s Iris Apfel on the line; can you even? She chats with us about her initial refusals to be filmed, her husband’s fashion opinions, and why she’s happy to call herself a geriatric starlet.
What made you want to do this documentary? I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t going to do it. Friends of mine talked me into it, and then I finally met Albert Maysles, and we fell in love immediately. I didn’t see why I needed to do a documentary, so I refused at the beginning. But I’m glad that I did it.
Were you happy with the way IRIS turned out? I was happy with it. I had no idea what to expect. It was all shot blind; there was no plan and no script for it. He just shot what he thought was interesting. He shot dozens and dozens of things that never went into the picture, but that’s for the filmmaker to choose.
A lot of people have photographed you. What was special about the way Maysles captured you? I think he did a very good job—he’s a very sensitive fashion photographer and filmmaker.
What would you never, ever wear? I would certainly never wear a sleeveless dress. Or a mini-skirt.
What about the way young people dress baffles you? Oh, lots of things. Young people don’t try to look pretty or attractive. Lots of them just look sloppy all the time. And in the evening, I think a lot of them wear clothes that are much too revealing.
There’s a strong “man repelling” trend in fashion right now. What does your husband think about the way you dress? Oh, he loves it. I wouldn’t do it if he didn’t. I wouldn’t wear anything that displeased him. He likes it very much. He usually likes how I put myself together, and comments on that, but he never picks out an individual item. It’s not the item, it’s the look.
What was your favourite decade for fashion? From the ’50s to the early ’90s there was a lot of creativity, and I think it’s all petered out. We had a lot of great American designers and they’re all gone now.
You are so often called a fashion icon, and you are an inspiration to many, but who or what inspires you? I’m inspired by being alive and getting up in the morning and being able to do things. Lots of things inspire me.
You call yourself a geriatric starlet. What does that mean to you? It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s funny. It happened because when I did my first show at the Metropolitan Museum, I was invited to speak at a conclave at New York University for their fashion program, and one designer got up and said, “Your show is wonderful. With it, you’ve given New York its loveliest Christmas present in years. And what has New York done for you?” So I said, “It’s made me a geriatric starlet.”
What is something you do now that you didn’t do when you were younger? I did pretty much what I wanted to do for most of my life, so I don’t think I’m doing anything differently now. I haven’t changed that much. Maybe I’ve grown up a little more, but I don’t think I’ve changed.
What is your greatest accomplishment? Staying around this long.