Iris Apfel isn't exactly a household name, unless we're talking about very stylish households. From 1950 to 1992 Apfel ran Old World Weavers, the business she co-founded with her husband, Carl, which faithfully re-created antique textiles for use in home decorating: From grand Park Avenue drapes to demure White House settees, the duo's historically accurate fabrics made their way into any number of upper-crusty redecorating schemes.
But today Apfel, 93, is less well known for dressing interiors and more famous for dressing herself. She's what's known in fashion parlance as a style icon, though the fatuous blandness of that term doesn't come close to describing the visual exuberance of her look: On a random day Apfel might sport -- in addition to her trademark cropped silver hair and round-rimmed spectacles -- a satin patchwork jacket in Marrakesh colors, a pair of velvet smoking slippers with a screw embroidered on the toe of one and the letter "U" emblazoned on the other, and no fewer than six jumbo amber bead necklaces. Plus five bright bakelite bangles -- on each arm.
Apfel is the subject of Albert Maysles's Iris, one of the final documentaries made by the revered nonfiction filmmaker before he died this past March. Maysles's camera opens its eyes wide to Apfel, taking the measure of her wildly beautiful and witty outfits as if it can hardly believe what it sees. There's delight here in Maysles's way of seeing. When it's time to go, this is the way to do it, with nothing but openness to joy and beauty: Iris is a wonderful parting shot.