See the source image“Your father… favoured a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say your father favoured it – it’s really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course.”   —J. K. Rowling

This is not a Potter-post, but it is a post about Iris Apfel and, to begin with, the wisdom of the idea that “the wand chooses the wizard.”  I heard it proposed in person (by a psychologist no less) that we humans do not choose the things that grip us.  Our passions, even our dreams, our interests: they have us, they are holding onto us and not exactly the other way around.  And when I heard this I thought, what a marvelous, fascinating, wonderful idea!  What’s more, I think that it’s most probably true.  There are many other places that this thought appears, I’ve found.  I was reminded of what Elizabeth Gilbert expresses in her excellent book, Big Magic, and that is that creative ideas are themselves looking for someone to collaborate with, and of their own accord often proceed to come and find us (she even occasionally showers, shaves her legs, and dresses up extra presentably specifically in an attempt to attract more of them to herself when she is writing).

Big MagicTwo interesting stories to that effect (one from Gilbert’s book, and one that I read about fairly recently):

In Big Magic, Gilbert writes about how Tom Waits sometimes would experience musical concepts coming to him while he was out driving.  Once, he replied to a song which came to call at just such an obviously-inopportune moment, saying, “Go bother someone else. Go bother Leonard Cohen!”  No hard feelings, of course, Gilbert relays.  If a song is “serious about being born,” Waits believes, it will return when its potential to do so is more probable.

I love that story.

Malvina Reynolds had a slightly different response when the song Little Boxes came to her behind the wheel of a vehicle (albeit, she had the benefit of a passenger). Apparently, she and her husband were driving to a meeting when it happened. “As she drove through Daly City, she said, “Bud, take the wheel. I feel a song coming on.”  And so it was that she wrote down Little Boxes as it came to her speeding down the road (thanks to this song, Malvina was even credited for the addition of the term “ticky tacky” in the Oxford English Dictionary—-pretty neat).

In his book, Musicophilia,  Oliver Sacks writes, “It seems to me that most of our musical imagery is not voluntarily commanded or summoned but comes to us apparently spontaneously.  Sometimes it just pops into the mind.”  And it seems to me that it’s not just ideas, but circumstances and opportunities that behave in this manner—-such as in the adage, when the student is ready the teacher appears.  This has happened to me countless times, often in the form of an article or a book at a wonderfully opportune moment but sometimes in the form of an actual person: a real living-and-breathing-teacher.  At times like those, it is easy to feel that it truly is such a wonderful world.  Oliver Sacks (a genuinely interesting and thoughtful writer, I must say) addresses intentionality in creative work, as does Gilbert.  There is work, to be sure, there is intentionality, and there are lots of difficult hours of practicing and striving uphill—-long periods of apparent nothingness too—-but there is also the phenomenon of feeling drawn to something, fascinations (do you feel like you choose what fascinates you, or have they chosen you?), inspiration, intuition, and the like.

IrisBut now, back to Iris Apfel.  The documentary (simply titled Iris) was a quiet, almost sensible joy to watch.  Iris is a long-standing fashion icon.  Her massive private collections of clothing, accessories and art pieces from across the globe have been showcased in wildly popular art exhibitions, and her expertise is eagerly sought in such areas.  Much of what could easily be called her ‘passion’ in life seems to have had its sights set on her from the start: opportunities came to her, and she found that sometimes things just “had her name on them.”  It was a good watch, and I’d recommend it as long as slow and quirky are acceptable qualities in a feature.  For my own part, I liked the slowness and the quirkiness.  I had never before heard of Iris Apfel and I found that I liked her just about instantly.  She would want readers to know that now, at the age of 97, she is still alive, active in her (beautiful) métier and very, very well-dressed.


Iris Apfel - Apfel, Iris BarrelWe also have a book here at Vaughan Public that I would like to read one day called Accidental Icon: Musings of A Geriatric Starlet, written by Iris Apfel herself.

While I haven’t (yet) had the pleasure of taking in any more than the book’s title, the idea that she thinks of herself as an accidental icon makes her story all the more splendid: without a deliberate attempt to infiltrate anything, but certainly with an open heart as it was happening, the art and fashion world (her ‘wand’) found and embraced her—-and what a marvelous choice it made!

About Victoria Murgante

Victoria is always looking for something good to read. Her claims to fame are taking guitar lessons from a friend of Raffi's (he was a great teacher!), contributing a three-word spoken part to a hard rock album in the early 90s, and owning a pair of pants that were hemmed by Michael Cera's aunt.

3 thoughts on “Iris

  1. I was immediately stricken by the thought, when I read about Gilbert’s attempt to attract creative ideas to her when she is writing, that if her method works, that must mean that creative ideas, too, are bogged down by the same ideals of gender & beauty as we who are inspired by them are! Unless only certain ones are attracted by these displays, and there are others Gilbert hasn’t led us to know how to attract by other means, I suppose.

    Onto Iris, of whom I know nothing apart from that she’s a highly idiosyncratic fashion icon – I already love her. I was interested in the book when I saw it in our catalogue already, but now I want to watch the documentary and learn all about her! I love the use of costume jewelry (though I’m much too timid to pull it off myself), and those colours!

  2. Gilbert got that particular idea out of a novel by Laurence Sterne. “Specifically, here’s what Tristram claims he would do when he was feeling “stupid” and blocked, and when his thoughts would “rise heavy and pass gummous through [his] pen.” Instead of sitting there in a funk, staring hopelessly at the empty page, he would leap from the chair, get a fresh razor and give himself a nice clean shave… After that, he would engage in this elaborate transformation: “I change my shirt–put on a better coat–send for my last wig–put my topaz ring upon my finger; and in a word, dress myself from one end to the other of me, after my best fashion.””

    I feel like Iris possibly puts that much care into her dress and fashionability the majority of the time! I think it represents the stage of her artistic expression, perhaps. I also like Iris’ flair for piecing together costume jewelry—-as she says in the documentary (I can’t remember her exact words, but something like), ‘life is so dull and dreary, might as well make people smile.’

    1. Ah that makes more sense in context! Self-care and actively taking the time to turn your thoughts & perspective around make a difference, and although I do believe we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it’s nigh impossible not to do so, even when it comes to ourselves and how we present to ourselves.

      That is such a wonderful MO!

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