Isaac Mizrahi was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an observant Jewish family that originated in Syria. With ambitious, hopes, to one day be a designer, his father bought him a sewing machine when he was ten years old. At just 15 years old, Mizrahi he launched his own label, IS New York. After attending the Yeshivah of Flatbush, Mizrahi went on to study at High School of Performing Arts and then at Parson’s School of Design.
Mizrahi presented his first collection in 1987 at a trunk show held by New York’s renowned department store Bergdorf Goodman. Mizrahi’s line immediately caught the attention of fashion editors and various retailers were eager to carry his label.
As the years progressed, so did the admiration of his elegant and refined collection by actresses; Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Debra Messing, Selma Blair, Sarah Jessica Parker and that’s just to name a few….. Surely, he had made a name for himself in the fashion industry.
With such an expansive, creativity and drive under his belt, in 1989 Mizrahi received the Perry Ellis Award for Emerging Talent and was named Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Womenswear Designer of the Year, an award he won again in 1991.
In 2002 he began designing another label Diffusion Collection, for Target. The line was a tremendous hit and he even began to cover accessories, bedding, housewares and pet products. From there, Mizrahi went on to design for Liz Claiborne which featured his work for women of all sizes. In 2010, Mizrahi started a label titled IsaacMizrahiLIVE for QVC. By 2012 he launched his first fragrance, Fabulous, which was debuted on QVC and Bloomingdales.
Mizrahi has been well known for his 1995 documentary Unzipped, which followed the development of his fall 1994 collection, with appearances by Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss as well as being a judge for the fifth season of Lifetime’s Project Runway Stars. To add to his achievements, Mizrahi has also been costuming for Broadway and directing musicals and opera.
With such a wide array of talent, it comes as no surprise that his latest and widely acclaimed success has landed his work in an exhibit, Isaac Mizrahi Live: An Unruly History, which was unveiled this month at the Jewish Museum in New York City and will run until August 7.
Isaac Mizrahi’s inventive and provocative style advances complex issues within the fashion arena, igniting a spirited discourse about high versus low, modern glamour, and contemporary culture. For example, his runway shows were cast with unconventionally beautiful models of all ethnicities dressed in Star of David belts, Western-wear infused handmade lace, Adidas sneakers in place of high heels, handbags worn as hats, or humble cotton undershirts paired with floor-length taffeta skirts. Uniting opposites is a Mizrahi signature, which arises in his many combinations of evening and sportswear, formal and casual, and couture and mass market.
Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History is organized thematically, exploring key trends in Mizrahi’s work — from the use of color and prints, to witty designs that touch on issues of race, religion, class, and politics. The core of the exhibition features iconic designs from the Isaac Mizrahi New York clothing label (1987 – 1998), the “semi-couture” collections (2003 – 2011), and the trailblazing line for Target (2002 – 2008). The show is comprised of 42 “looks” that include clothing, hats, jewelry, shoes, accessories, and costumes for the theater, the opera, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. Also featured are the designer’s original drawings, performance stills, and behind-the-scenes photographs. A bespoke multi-screen video installation showcases a variety of content drawn from film and television cameos and runway shows, as well as from the award-winning documentary Unzipped; the television program The Isaac Mizrahi Show; scenes from the cabaret LES MIZrahi; appearances on Project Runway; and the current QVC network show IsaacMizrahiLive!.
Among some of the items for viewing are three, couture, coats, that Mizrahi specifically made for the exhibition. When asked why he chose to focus on coats, he said “A coat is something that you keep wearing. It sticks around. And it pretty much has a classic shape. It took me so long to make these three coats, because I needed them to be interesting. Something that I thought would kind of sit well in a museum. But also not be like art. Because it’s not art. It’s clothes.”
When asked if he had any art displayed at the museum, Mizrahi said, “for sure. Are you kidding me? Absolutely. It inspires art, you know, but it’s not art. I’m sorry. You wear it, and hopefully, like, give it to your daughter or something, or throw it away. You don’t keep it on a wall and put it in a museum for the rest of its life. Except there’s a few of my things in the Met or at another costume collection.
Certainly, the exhibition demonstrates the talent, diligence and dedication of Isaac Mizrahi’s, many endeavors in design, media and performing arts. It’s a must see collection of work that resulted from that young, 15 year old boy, who was given a sewing machine.