Even cats don’t get as much life as Isaac Mizrahi. There is a miracle of fashion once named that New York time“The hottest new designer” and featured in the 1995 documentary Open the zipper. There are costume designers who work on Broadway and for the Metropolitan Opera. There are entrepreneurs who have created a very successful path for QVC and Target (“Some critics warn that designing clothes for Target can damage his self-image, but instead, the agreement has enhanced Mr. Mizrahi’s career,” Wall Street Journal write in 2005). There is a talk show host. There are cabaret players with ticket sets sold out at the famous Carlyle Café in Manhattan. There it is Project Runway: All Stars judge. Comic book writer. The writer of the memoir.
In all his incarnations, he is a man of many words, whose tangent lines aimlessly but without fail lead back to his original thinking. Mizrahi was never afraid to voice strong opinions – even when saying they were unpopular. That was what happened in February when Mizrahi endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg. The reply was spicy, with many pointing to Bloomberg record by cutting funds for housing contracts that support HIV / AIDS and his stop-and-frisk policy (which he later did criticized). “I am very, very surprised that people see it differently, because I am not,” Mizrahi said. “I don’t see him as this evil evil king.”
Now that Bloomberg has left, Mizrahi has moved, with her eyes still on the goal of overthrowing the current President. “I mean, everybody has to do whatever they can,” he said. “Like whoever they support, whatever, but we must gather and move it. We must move this bad energy.”
Below, in a broad interview that touched on its Jewish roots, a gay man in New York and the current state of the fashion industry, Mizrahi pondered over five decades in, out and on the edges of the fashion industry.
Mizrahi in 1997
I would be remiss not to thank you for talking to me today. To say I’m a big fan would be an understatement.
This is amazing to hear. What makes you like me so much? Or rather, what about me that makes you so erect now?
I don’t think there is a cultural figure that I have connected with over the years in terms of sensitivity. Your style, of course. Your Jewish identity. Your flamboyant. Your love for NYC and your pride in it. And the way you see the world. It always catches me. So let me start a little meta. Do you like to be interviewed?
I love therapy because you pay someone not to ask questions and just listen to you talk, you know? So it is very good. That’s like the most amazing thing in the world. Because I’m a big narcissist egomaniac. But I like being interviewed because I learned from it. And because you know, again, it’s about moi. Toujour, honey. Toujour sur moi.
You grew up in a very religious Jewish household in Brooklyn. When did you first realize your Judaism?
When I was little, we were Jews. There is no choice in this matter. I was sent to Yeshiva who was very Orthodox and the shul I visited was Orthodox, I mean, that was an anomaly because of Sephardic, low-cut dresses and high heels and big hair. This extraordinary piety, but flamboyant. And then at that school there were rabbis who looked like rabbis, which to me was easier. If you are going to become a rabbi, you have to look for it, because if you are a rabbi and you smell and you have a big package, what kind of bait and change is that, you know?[[[[Laugh]And their wives wear wigs that make them look worse. I do not understand that. And you’re talking to someone who love wig. Like me love wig, but not with the aim of making yourself look worse. I usually watch non-Jews on Christmas get gifts and we like getting bad gifts at Hanukkah. Hanukkah is like, not glamorous. And there you have Christmas and it’s just trees and Santas and Mitzi Gaynor Christmas specials and we have menorahs and Maccabees. It just doesn’t feel fair, doesn’t feel fair. So I hate it.
As you discussed in your memoir, I., growing up there is a conflict between being gay and being Jewish.
When I was a child, that idea was so disgusting and so disgusting that even if they called me gay – they did until I really threw up, every day of my life, that was my nickname. It builds at a level you can’t imagine, but I am tough. And I think they don’t even understand what that means. As if I don’t even think they understand that men can make love to each other. They don’t even know what they mean. But somehow I’m resilient and I can be like, default to my feelings, which can’t be wrong. And I’m not sure where I got it from. Obviously not from Yeshiva. But I know that my feelings are not wrong, and that is what guides me.
Mizrahi at NYFW around 1991
So you were 10 years old when your dad gave you a sewing machine. And it was not a standard gift for a 10-year-old boy at the time. How do you make it happen for yourself?
Well, he didn’t give it to me baby. I bought it. I looked after this summer and in the end I went to the Singer Center when we had this place for the summer in New Jersey on the beach. I wanted my mother to come with me, but my father came and he knew everything about sewing machines. He identified a better sewing machine at Singer Center, a very beautiful old machine. And I was very lucky he did that and I was very lucky he came with me that day. And it’s a little more expensive than the machine I want. I actually want to buy a type of modern machine and it kicks in like twenty dollars or something so I can get it. But I bought the machine with my own money. And that is not to make clothes. I do not see clothing as an art form. I see it more like a kind of … everyday thing, you know? That’s about clothes. I mean, I like intelligence. I like it, like it, you know? But I love meat more. I like the body more than I like fashion.
What is your relationship with your father like?
I did not really feel love from my father. He is a great man and there are clear moments, but I feel he hopes I become a different type of boy. And this closeness might have been lost because I think he wants a different type of child who is more interested in improving things around the house or sports. Even though he himself doesn’t like sports. But finally he began to buy me this attachment for a sewing machine and bring it to me. And then in my life, I kind of realized, or I confess, that it was kind of like he reached out again and sort of showed me some kind of love and attention.
So in 1988 you made your runway debut. I spoke with a fashion historian friend ahead of today and he said, “I don’t think anyone in 40-year mode I burst onto the stage with the first show like Isaac did.” What do you remember from that collection?
I remember that I was not very much present in the cultural events of the show. Like, my head bowed to everything. I was looking at shoes and hair bows and ties and earrings, if they were installed correctly. And in those days you order like twenty women or seventeen women and you show like a lot of clothes and they will change their damn clothes quickly and it’s really interesting and fun and also difficult, you know, it’s very difficult to get a girl who looks like she’s in those clothes when she really only wears it and almost unzips and changes her tights and shoes and hair. And now this must be adjusted. And that.
And when I arrived at the runway, I saw Veronica Webb, she came out at the end of the show before I bowed, and she said to me, “You are the king of New York.” And I said to her “stop making love to me.” As I thought he was good because I thought I would be destroyed. And I walked to the runway to this crazy standing ovation, and not only from my friends, but from everyone … from everyone in the room. But that’s where I was during the whole show. I am not present in glory. I was in the ditch, you know, Scrum. I was in the scrum.
With Marc Jacobs at 7 On Sale 1990
Many praised you for truly accentuating the vanguard of celebrities –
Oh really? You might be right, yes.
Right now it’s a kind of standard fare for runways, but it’s not all at once. Where did the impulse first come to invite celebrities to sit in the front row for fashion?
Well, you know, a lot just happened. And I didn’t really try that hard. I have never paid anyone to sit in the front row. I mean that is the whole invention, I don’t know whose it is, but for me it hurts when you have to pay someone to sit in your front row. What the hell? You have to tell me what that means. Like, what does that mean?
Liza Minnelli happened to be my friend, and she was interested in coming and she came. Or Sandra [Bernhard], and Sandra brings Roseanne and Madonna will come to the show and Robert De Niro because he likes to see the models. I mean, he doesn’t care about my clothes. And Russell Simmons insisted on coming to my show. And I’m happy to have it because it’s a glamorous sight, you know? That was earlier. That’s just this glamor in fact scene.
Clearly film and art history are great reference points for your work. Where do you tend to look for inspiration?
You know, I often walk on the road and I say, “Oh my God, what is that?” And I would follow someone and like to look at their shoes, like a pair of Adidas or something. But something just happened to them, like they were involved in a problem or something, and it was very beautiful for me.
Naomi Campbell in the 1994 NYFW Autumn
So I want to go back to the late ’80s, early’ 90s. You are a young gay man who appeared in the midst of an AIDS crisis. And I wonder what impact it will have on you, so that your career develops at a time when your community is suffering.
It is very rich in various feelings. I must say that is a very, very separate mind. There was my career as a fashion designer and then there were all my dying friends who were obviously very sad. And just because I lived through AIDS and I was an artist at the time did not mean my work was about AIDS. That, because of who I am and you can’t avoid it, right? It’s inseparable, but it’s not specifically about AIDS.
What do you think about the current status of the LGBTQ + liberation movement?
I always love being gay, not just because I like dick. But because I like being gay. I used to go to small secret places like cocktail parties that took place in the early 80s, they were called Boy’s Night or Boy Parties or something. And they happened in Columbia and it was like, “My God, we like going to like gay dances in Columbia. Like, pinch me.”
And there’s something extraordinary about walking into like Uncle Charlie, who is a gay bar on Greenwich Avenue, or Cahoots or something on the Upper West Side, and you gay in gay bars. That is the biggest thing in the world. Now I don’t think there is any kind of solidarity between LGBTQ + people. And I think that’s the way it should be. I believe in evolution. But there is something very pleasant about it. And as much as I have missed, I have not regretted for a second that this dialogue has become bigger and more demanding, more politically demanding. I for that. You know, I believe in what I believe. But I am very happy with the younger generation who told me new things about how they want to be perceived. So hooray for the LGBTQ + battle, because that’s the only way you can progress.
What about the current state of fashion? How do you feel about that?
When we made it Open the zipperI want some kind of vehicle to explain to me, surprise is the number one element in fashion. I still like surprises, and now I just hate fashion. I hate it. I think that’s the worst. And what some become. It just becomes a spectacle of this kind of clown. No, really, I mean this, I’m just going to tell you, because there are no surprises at all.
And there is no truth object is going. Even the biggest shows in the world are many skirts and sweaters and many styles. I don’t mind if it sounds bitter, because I thought maybe it would help people do it to make it better. I don’t know what happened to me years ago to really care about it. Forgive me. That’s where I was with that. That’s something we have to talk about for one second because for my generation – which isn’t baby boomers and not generation X exactly, it’s right in the middle between boomers and X – there’s something about the need for everything to be very smart first, right? You have to be very smart and then visually have to be great and then have to be this and that, but above all it has to be inventive and fresh and surprising, right? And somehow now it doesn’t have to be smart at all.
Of the large arms models from that era, who do you keep in contact with today?
Nothing Except Veronica [Webb]. Veronica and I are really good friends. Um, you know, I’m following some people on Instagram. I followed Shalom [Harlow] on Instagram. Shalom and I are friends, but we don’t see each other all the time, whereas I see Veronica regularly.[[[[Long pause]I recently spoke with Josie Borain on Instagram. But that’s all.
No, no. I honestly never really read Mode. Yeah, I read it when I was little. I am angry about it. I poured each page and then I worked for a different person where I had to read it because of that Mode. When I started on my own, I tried to stay in touch with him, but then I couldn’t, because if you see it, it will make you angry. This is the real psychic type of a very big and sad thing.
Favorite memory from filming the guest place at Sex and the city?
Look at Sarah Jessica Parker’s bra tree. He has this crazy bra hanger which is only a bra mass. Because I love breasts!
Natasha Richardson at the 1997 Golden Globes
Favorite celebrity have you ever worn?
Arnold, my husband, recently discovered this photo of Natasha Richardson from Golden Globes from 1997 or something. And he sent me, it was like wow. Natasha. He is an extraordinary person. I love him so much. And he is kind of friend. And Liza! And Sandra!
Were you surprised by the pushback you received for Mike Bloomberg’s endorsement in February?
I was very, very surprised by that, yes. I was very surprised by that and I’m not sure where it came from. I suspect that is a supporter of Bernie Sanders, right? Because I don’t think Republicans care at the time, right? Maybe some Republicans, but most people who love Bernie Sanders. And you know, I love Bernie Sanders for many reasons, but Mike Bloomberg is someone I consider to be a leader. I am very, very surprised that people see it differently because I don’t see it. I do not see him as this evil evil king. I see him as a very smart person who built this great empire and made a lot of money. But he always uses it, I think, for very good results. I think the ending is very, very good. And I know there are people in the LGBTQ + spectrum who will say things that are very contradictory, but grandchildren will look back at Mike Bloomberg and say he really helps gay people in the world and lesbians and people gender fluid in the world. So they can reply now, but grandchildren will look back at him and know that he is a very good person.
Welcome to “Wear Me Out,“ a column by the pop culture devil Evan Ross Katz who saw the week in a celebrity bandage. From the award show and film premiere to the grocery store, he will give you the latest information about what your favorite celebrity has been wearing recently to the biggest and least important event.
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