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Why we've fallen head over heels for Iris Apfel

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Nonagenarian socialite and New York style icon Iris Apfel is the star of a new documentary by the late Albert Maysles. Stylist's Susan Riley explains why it's the one film you should watch this weekend:

I officially want to be Iris Apfel. And once you’ve seen this movie, I promise you, you will too.

Iris is 93. She lives in New York, with her husband Carl, a 100-year-old sweetheart of a man who lets his wife deck him out in floral trousers and steel studded caps, and refers to her as his ‘child bride’ with so much pride you want to physically reach inside the screen, kidnap him, and take him home to live with you.   

The pair have been married forever. They live in a Park Avenue apartment that is stuffed with so many objects and quirky momentos – Kermit the frog riding an ostrich-shaped minibar for one – that not a smidgeon of space remains. They are hoarders of the best kind; a couple who’ve travelled the world for decades collecting fabrics and furniture and clothes that they adore, and now live in the most lauded Aladdin’s cage in Manhattan.

Iris in New York with her beloved husband (and partner-in-crime) Carl

Iris in New York with her partner-in-crime (and beloved husband) Carl

The film – captured at different points over a four-year period by legendary documentary maker Albert Maysles, who sadly died earlier this year – follows Iris (and Carl at times, but mainly Iris) as she navigates her role as Nonagenarian tastemaker.

One minute she’s styling Iris mannequins – complete with the saucer-sized spectacles that are now her trademark ­- for New York store Bergdorf’s; the next selling her own jewellery line on the home shopping network; the next teaching students from the University of Texas. All part of a crazy wave she’s been riding since 2005 when The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited her incredible collection of clothing and accessories and the fashion world went nuts for her.

Now her phone rings off the hook; over 50 times a day her housekeeper tells us as Iris scrabbles around in her bag to answer yet another call. 

Her life is basically batshit crazy for someone in their tenth decade.

Nonagenarian tastemaker

Iris flourishing in her role of Nonagenarian tastemaker

The best bits of the film though are just watching Iris being Iris; stalking around markets and clothes stores, haggling like the child of the depression she is and stacking oversized bangles up and down her arm as she weighs herself down with yet another accessory. She is, to put it bluntly, one cool chick and her life advice provides some cutting through the bullshit gems: women can’t have it all (something’s got to give and it’s normally you) and it’s better to be happy than well-dressed being just two pearls that spring to mind.  

Even better than her life now is the glimpses you get of her past – her and Carl travelling around the globe for their former business Old World Weavers (they reproduced old world fabrics for some of the most prestigious homes in America; their curtains and upholstery decking out the White House for nine administrations) soaking up every inch of culture and interest they could find.  Apfel’s is a life so rich, you can’t not be enchanted by it, and her. 

Did I mention I love her?

Iris is in cinemas from 31 July

Photos: Rex Features

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