There will always be those who believe that fashion is for the frivolous. To these arbiters of all that is good and right and important in the world, collecting clothes is for the vapid and shallow. And yet, in Albert and David Maysles’s 1976 cinema verité classic Grey Gardens, it was just about the only thing connecting Little Edie Beale to her former life as an East Coast socialite. She lost all her money and much of her mind, but she never lost her sense of style.
As Oscar Wilde once advised, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” and that’s what links Beale with Iris Apfel, the nonagenarian interior designer, textile manufacturer, and fashion icon of Albert Maysles’s penultimate documentary (the 88-year-old director and cinematographer had one more film in the can before he passed away this March). While Iris and her rhyming husband, Carl (“Make a deal, McNeil!”), are hardly poor, she believes that fashion lives everywhere, from high-end shops to dollar stores.
Maysles accompanies her on shopping expeditions in New York and Palm Beach, with stops along the way for photo shoots and public appearances. Though he never presses the point, Iris is also a film about aging—Carl turned 100 during the course of filming—and the sustaining power of a supportive partner. It is, in other words, a love letter from one artist to another.