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Legendary Fashionista Iris Afpel on Looking Good and Being Yourself

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In March, the Miami International Film Festival hosted the Florida premiere of Iris, with fashion icon Iris Apfel herself in the audience. Minutes earlier, while chatting in the back room of O Cinema Miami Beach, she revealed it was her first time watching Albert Maysles' film about her. "It'd be tough if I don't enjoy it," she said candidly. The filmmaker had died weeks earlier, so there'd be no one to whom she could complain.

That sense of humor is just a part of the fascinating woman that Maysles' final documentary shows off. At 93 years old, Apfel is still a fashionista. A woman with a distinct sense of style, Apfel scours New York to find clothes, making fashion statements and dishing out style tips. And she's heard nothing but good things so far. "Everyone seems to like it, so that makes me happy," she says. "Albert liked it too, and I'm very happy that for his last piece of work, he was so happy with it and he had such a good time making it."

Iris discusses the process of making their documentary as though it were all very natural. "We got on very, very well," she emphasizes, and the pleasantries of their relationship can be seen even in the trailer. "He was not intrusive at all. He just kind of followed me when we were doing things."

But Apfel admits she had no idea what he was doing. "It was all a blank slate. There was no script, and I never asked him what this was going to be like. We just did it," she explains. Even then, though, she knew there was more than enough material of her being shot. At one point, she recalls questioning the filmmaker and suggesting there was "enough on the cutting-room floor to do three more films" because of the amount of time — three years — he had dedicated to her.

And much of the film is dedicated to her role in fashion and the way she effortlessly looks fabulous on a day-to-day basis. Always sporting a style that's not necessarily in line with what one would expect from the industry, Apfel isn't particularly enthusiastic about the state of fashion. "I think it's rather depressing," she reveals. "There's just no creativity. And people do a lot of strange things they think is gonna be shocking. They work so hard on things to try to be freaky."

"It's better to be happy than well-dressed," she says in the documentary, and in person she backs that up wholeheartedly." If you’re going to be uptight, no matter how well-dressed you are, you can’t be comfortable, and if you aren’t comfortable, you’re not going to look well. You have to put clothes on and then forget about them."

It's particularly refreshing to hear those words from someone in fashion, when so much of the industry is bent on criticizing and shaming people for wearing whatever they please. "It's not nice," she plainly says about shows such as Fashion Police and the like. "It’s nasty. I mean, people have a right to look the way they want to, and if you don’t like it, you have no right to criticize."

To that, Apfel adds about how she sees herself as a contrast to the kind of people she sees in the industry.

"So many fashion people take themselves so seriously, and I was hoping I wasn’t going to come off as a serious fashionista, because I’m not," she says. "I get inspired by being alive and listening and just living and thinking. I love to get dressed, and I love beautiful clothes, but it’s just a small part of my life."

Iris opens this weekend at O Cinema Wynwood, Miami Beach Cinematheque, and Tower Theater. 

Follow Juan Barquin on Twitter @woahitsjuanito

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