GROWING OLD has never looked as wonderful as it does on Iris Apfel. The 93-year-old is a style icon—so much so that the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibition of her personal wardrobe in 2005. A retired textile mogul and interior designer who tweaked out the White House for nine different presidents, Apfel's style is mad, all color and huge jewelry draped over a slender frame and topped with her signature huge round glasses. She's a diligent magpie collector, equally at ease snatching up cheap baubles at a Harlem hole in the wall as she is having a brand new Oscar de la Renta coat boxed up at Bergdorf's. Her eye guides and propels her through life, and she's definitely having more fun getting dressed than you are.
Recently passed director Albert Maysles has a sizeable legend of his own, as the co-director (with his brother David) of legendary documentaries Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. Maysles' Iris, while delightful thanks to its subject, is nowhere near as dramatic: Apfel and her dear husband Carl are basically happy, inspiring, busy people; their cheerfulness is only occasionally clouded by concern, usually related to health and aging. This makes them excellent role models and tame film subjects, and so Iris dodders on pleasantly enough.
If Maysles wanted to scratch a bit deeper, he might've addressed the economic elephant in the room: The Apfels are rich, and while Iris may be one of the originators of "high-low" style, her ability to collect whatever catches her eye goes a long way toward the final, striking result. That's all sidestepped here, as Maysles contents himself with allowing Iris to simply encourage the world to follow their instincts and embrace individuality. And perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate that while beauty fades, style only gets better, if you let it.