“Hi, this is Iris”. When I heard these words, I was so overwhelmed, I almost hung up! I’ve had the chance to meet and interview many famous people in my life and I’m rarely star-struck, but at this very moment, I have to say I was IMPRESSED!
I admire many people in the fashion industry, but I have few icons… Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen are up there in terms of design, Bill Cunningham is my street photography idol, I look up to Jeanne Beker for my career… and Iris Apfel is my ultimate style icon!
I’ve always liked colourful clothes and dressing different, but I was scared of what people could think of me until I was 25. That’s when I discovered fearless Iris (through her 2005 exhibition at the MET Museum in New York)… and everything changed! She made me realize that eccentric was beautiful and that the only person I needed to dress for was myself.
When I told her how she influenced my style, she replied: “thank you very much my dear, this makes my day”. This made her day? Well, let me tell you that this conversation made my year…
Lolitta: How did the documentary come about?
Iris: A few weeks after I had told a friend about my role as visiting teacher at the University of Texas, Albert Mayles called me to say he was interested in doing a documentary about me. I didn’t have anything to sell and/or an ego problem, so I said no. He called twice and both times I refused. When I told people about it, they freaked out. “How dare you say no to Albert?” was all I heard every single time.
So what made you change your mind?
Well… he actually called a third time and I finally agreed to meet him. When I arrived at his studio, I fell in love. It’s as simple as that! Even though we worked on the film during 4 years, I had no idea what to expect because Albert doesn’t work with a script. I actually saw the images for the first time when it was presented at Lincoln Center. I loved the movie, but I also thought that with all the footage we had, we could’ve made 3 other completely different movies.
Albert unfortunately passed away earlier this year, can you tell me a little bit more about your relationship?
I didn’t know Albert for a long time, I only met him 4 years ago when we decided to do this documentary, but we became good friends and I’m sad he’s not there anymore. What makes me very happy though, is that I was his last film and he LOVED it!
You’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout your career as an interior designer. How has it shaped your style?
Everything a person does influences them. I can’t say the travelling changed me because my style was already established before touring the world, but it did make me more sophisticated.
A lot of women would like to dress in a more original way, but they don’t know how to do it. What would be your best advice for them?
First of all, you have to know who you are and how far you want to go in terms of style… and then you have to experiment. There’s no magic recipe, it’s just a lot of work! But you have to be happy to do it, if it gets you frustrated, stop. It’s better to be happy than well dressed!
And can we experiment at any age?
Of course! You can experiment when you’re a 103 if you want! If you feel compelled to try something but aren’t sure if it’s going to work, just do it… the fashion police won’t take you away!
In the film, we can see that your husband is very supportive in everything you do, including your style. Is his approval important?
The person you live with is another important thing to add into the equation. This is very personal and might surprise you, but if Carl didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t do it. But that only applies to him and my mother, the others, I don’t care.
A lot of people discovered you thanks to the Metropolitan Museum exhibit that celebrated your style. How did it change your life?
In so many ways… It took me out of home decor and into fashion. It also made me a public figure and a geriatric star.
Do you like being a public figure?
I’m a very private person, but if fame is the prize to pay for being able to do all the things I do, I don’t mind paying.
Thanks to this wonderful exhibition, the world got to discover your amazing wardrobe. I know you don’t need anything, but when you shop today, where do you go? Any New York gems we should know about?
I don’t shop very much anymore, I’m more in the process of giving things away… so I don’t really have any must-stop shops. Lately, I went thrift shopping with my students from the University of Texas and it was fun… but I wouldn’t necessarily send people to these stores. Mostly because some of them charge 100 times more than the piece is actually worth.
What about designers, who’s work do you love?
I love Ralph Rucci, Naeem Khan, Raf Simons at Christian Dior… Libertine is also very interesting right now. It changes every season, you just have to keep your eyes and your options open. I don’t believe in wearing a designer from head to toe, it’s boring.
Any new projects you can tell us about?
Yes, I’m working on a new book. I didn’t want to do a memoir or a how-to, which I find ridiculous, but this project is fun! It’s about all sort of things… quotes, ideas, inspirations. It should be out by the end of the year.
When it comes out, maybe you can stop by Montreal…
Great idea! I want to come to Montreal so much! Maybe it will happen way before the book comes out…
Well, dear Iris, Montreal will welcome you with open arms
Iris by Albert Maysles is now showing at Cinéma du Parc.