Iris Apfel sipping from tweety glass

Iris Apfel: multidisciplinary fashion icon

After seeing ‘Iris’ at the movies, our guest writer considers the film’s examination of creativity, quality and the process that brings our ideas to life.

Iris isn’t a long film, just on an hour and 20 minutes. In that short space of time, it manages to paint a vivid picture of a creative practitioner whose talent came from a very obvious mix of incredibly rare talent, unstoppable passion and precision honed over decades in an industry known for its unique fickleness.

I saw the film at Cinema Nova last week. I gasped at every outfit. I laughed at every wry one liner. It was fantastic.

For those who don’t know about Iris Apfel, she is an icon in the fashion and interior design worlds who had been well known in her own fields for almost her whole career, styling White Houses (yes, those White Houses), sourcing rare fabrics and other homewares from across the world with twice-yearly trips with her adoring husband Carl, and generally being amazing.

At first glance, this warm, wonderful and whimsical film seems to be about the love story between a woman and her many, many clothes – the Apfel collection, in addition to being largely on loan to many museums in the United States, also takes up three apartments in New York and Miami. But it’s not just about that.

As a person working in a creative industry, the film’s most striking moments for me were those when Iris discussed her work and the creative work of others, particularly in reference to the way the fashion world responds to creativity in the current climate.

Having worked through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s (and beyond – she still works today), Iris often laments the younger generation’s lack of respect for knowing all of the elements of your craft. Designers who don’t know how fabrics are constructed, or the art of patternmaking or, worse, even how to sew, are commonplace in the international arena today, something that breaks our tiny hero’s multidisciplinary heart.

If you recognise that buzzword, it’s because it’s in the name of this agency. What it means (at Sense) is that we take a holistic approach to solving any brief, which requires an understanding (across many people with many different skills, of course) of each facet of the creative process and an appreciation and respect for those facets outside of the function you personally perform.

What Iris was talking about spoke to me because it is one of the great joys of collaboration – to understand and be inspired by the techniques and creativity of others, manifested in so many different ways across the infinite disciplines that fall under the nebulous umbrella of creativity. It was both incredibly sad and incredibly inspiring to see someone who was so deeply involved with so many different creative pursuits seem to be saying it used to be this way, and now it isn’t.

I certainly feel the importance of understanding both the history and future of my craft as a writer, but also the irreplaceable and crucial contribution that designers, developers, marketers and a whole suite of other people just in this building have on making my work what it is.

So, while I agree with Iris’ theory that it is of the utmost importance to respect and include the history and context of all the things you reference within those things you, in turn, create, I can’t agree that this practice is dead. In the fashion world, where celebrity currently influences so much, it must seem that way but there is always hope that the importance of craft eventually reclaim its place ahead of the importance of big names.

It seems to be the most logical (and the most beautiful) way of doing things, which suggests a renaissance is soon to emerge. It definitely makes for much more fun things to see, enjoy and experience — as evidenced by this wonderful, entertaining, informative and inspiring film. Those outfits! I almost died.

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After seeing ‘Iris’ at the movies, our guest writer considers the film’s examination of creativity, quality and the process that brings our ideas to life.

Sense Agency
Guest Writer