Isaac Mizrahi

Elizabeth Kutesko

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA025

Isaac Mizrahi was born in New York in 1961 and attended New York High School for the Performing Arts, before enrolling at the Parsons School of Design. On graduating in 1982, he worked as an assistant designer for Perry Ellis (1982–83), Jeff Banks (1984), and Calvin Klein (1985–87), using his extensive knowledge of American sportswear to establish his own label in 1987. Expanding his company throughout the 1990s to include menswear and accessories, Mizrahi simultaneously satisfied his passion for theater by collaborating with choreographers such as Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp to design costumes for modern dance, ballet, and film productions.

Mizrahi’s earliest design inspiration stemmed from all-American designers found in his mother’s closet as a child, including Claire McCardell, Norman Norell, Geoffrey Beene, and Halston, whose sophisticated yet purist clothing he admired. He transformed their economy and rigor of cut through the use of luxurious materials, inventive patterns, and vivid color combinations—interspersed with the occasional visual pun, such as pockets made of snap-fastening handbags, or high-end tailoring constructed using bathrobe or sweatshirt material. Mizrahi’s vision is almost “dialectical” in its ability to reinterpret the past through contemporary influences: “When I design a new collection, I am inspired by so many things … the juxtaposition of an old tenement building next to a shiny new skyscraper. Disparate images that somehow come together and show me how to think.” This translates into a plethora of revisionist, rational, and immaculately executed silhouettes and forms, comprising baby-doll dresses, jumpsuits, playsuits, and flounced tube dresses. Richard Martin has commended Mizrahi’s “simplifying glamour and the cool, nonchalant charm of his smart (intellectually and aesthetically) clothing.”

During his fashion career Mizrahi has been the subject of a documentary film, Unzipped, which was directed by Douglas Keeve in 1995 and charted the creation of his fall/winter collection of 1994. He has also been presented with awards by the Council of Fashion Designers of America on three occasions (Perry Ellis Award 1988, Women’s Wear Designer of the Year 1989 and 1991), by the Fashion Industry Foundation in 1990, and gained the Michelangelo Shoe Award in 1993. He was forced to close his business in 1998, following the withdrawal of financial backing by Chanel, but moved into the realm of comedy and performance, starring in a one-man show, LES MIZrahi, on Broadway in 2000, which was well received by critics and audiences.

Isaac Mizrahi, Spring/Summer 1997 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Hoare Sarajane. ““Vogue’s Spy: Isaac Mizrahi”.” Vogue ( British ), November 1988 .

Find in Library Menkes Suzy. ““Mizrahi: The Shooting Star”.” International Herald Tribune , 17 April 1990 .

Find in Library Menkes Suzy. ““Mizrahi’s All-American Swirls”.” International Herald Tribune , 3 November 1994 .

Find in Library Mills Cliff. Isaac Mizrahi . New York : Chelsea House, 2011.

Find in Library Mizrahi Isaac. How To Have Style . New York : Penguin Group, 2008.

Find in Library Mower Sarah. ““Isaac Mizrahi”.” Vogue ( British ), September 1989 .

Find in Library Petrillo Lisa. Isaac Mizrahi . Greensboro, NC : Morgan Reynolds Publishers, 2011.

Find in Library Pogrebin Robin. ““Mizrahi, Once Again the Main Attraction, Sings It Like It Is”.” The New York Times , 3 October 2000 .