Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Florence Snyder: Postcard from ‘Iris’

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

Take some incredibly good advice, Tallahassee, and see Iris, which played to full houses last weekend at the All Saints Cinema and is held over for three more showings.

The movie made its debut last October at the New York Film Festival and was shot by noted documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Gray Gardens), who died in March at age 88.

Maysles’ subject is 93-year-old Iris Apfel. If you’ve never heard of her, it’s because you don’t live in New York City, so you missed the Bergdorf-Goodman window filled with Iris mannequins, each wearing her signature glasses with frames the size of beer can bottoms.

Iris and husband Carl Apfel, whose 100th birthday party is among the many highlights of the film, started a textile company in 1950.  Doing business as Old World Weavers, Iris, a decorator, worked on design restoration projects in the White House during the administrations of every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.

The Apfels closed the firm in 1992, and Carl was hoping that the wife he plainly adores might take life a little easier.

But Iris was just warming up.

As a personal shopper to the great historic homes, museums, and residences of the most prominent Old Money people in the world, Iris had to keep a lid on her opinions. A consummate professional, Iris honors her obligations to long-dead clients like Jackie Kennedy, giving Carl a loving, but firm smack on the knee as he begins to tell Maysles that “Jackie was a difficult client.”

Now in business for herself as a consultant, a visiting professor at the University of Texas, and fulltime “rare bird of fashion,” Iris has wise and witty opinions on everything, and she’s not afraid to express them.

The camera lingers on the Apfels’ Park Avenue apartments and their warehouse in Long Island City.  To the untrained eye, it looks like something out of those reality shows about hoarding.  To the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it looked like great material for an exhibition.

Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel opened in the fall of 2005 and was so successful that they took it on the road to some highly regarded regional museums, including the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

It is hard to imagine a more interesting woman of any age than Iris, unless you know Agnes Ash, Iris’ friend and fellow nonagenarian. Aggie, as her army of admirers call her, got to know Iris in her decades covering the beautiful people for The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and as publisher of the Palm Beach Daily News and Palm Beach Life Magazine.

It was Aggie who introduced her daughter to Iris decades ago. That daughter grew up to be filmmaker Jennifer Ash Rudick, an executive producer of Iris, and producer-director of last year’s Diner en Blanc, a documentary about the world’s largest dinner party. Rudick has a rare gift for storytelling, and an even rarer knack for finding real wisdom in unexpected places.

Latest from Apolitical

Go to Top