End of the line – fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi

End of the line – fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi – Brief Article

Brendan Lemon

What was behind fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi’s decision to close his doors?

It came as some surprise when Isaac Mizrahi announced the closing of his ten-year-old fashion business in October, for at least two quite contrasting reasons. On the one hand, there had been few serious rumors that collapse was imminent, despite the 36-year-old designer’s reputation for making clothes that, as one industry observer remarked, “tended to just sit in the stores.” On the other, Mizrahi seemed to be so busy the past few years attending to his media personality–especially via the 1995 documentary Unzipped, which starred the designer as himself–that it was jolting to be reminded that he didn’t spend the day gossiping on the phone but rather trundled from his Greenwich Village apartment down to his SoHo office, where he presided over a multimillion-dollar business.

So what happened? Why did Chanel Inc., which had backed the loss-laden business since 1992, decide to pull the plug? Retailers who carried Mizrahi’s signature line for women profess to be puzzled. “I’m totally shocked,” Joseph Boitano, executive vice president at Bergdorf Goodman, told Women’s Wear Daily. Bergdorf Goodman had carried Mizrahi’s collection for years, and Boitano went on to add, “We always had a nice business. [Mizrahi] had a great following in the store.” Other retailers have told the press that the Mizrahi closing was ironic given that sales of the designer’s wares had just started to pick up again.

But the upswing seems to have been too little, too late. In retrospect, a clear sign of the demise had come at the beginning of the year, when Mizrahi was forced to close his two-year-old Isaac bridge line, which was intended to spur growth for the company’s brand. An even greater portent for commercial failure had been Mizrahi’s frustrating inability to develop or license a fragrance, the product that perhaps more than any other carries a designer’s name to the masses.

While many fashion insiders fault Mizrahi’s lack of commercial acumen, few dispute the charm of either his temperament or his talent. “Isaac’s designs tended to reflect his upbeat personality,” says Hal Rubenstein, fashion editor for InStyle magazine. “He’s a funny, smart guy who knows more about the clothes in classic movies or TV shows than just about anybody alive. When I think of him, I think of Barbara Billingsley”–a reference to the cookie-baking June Cleaver character on the ’50s TV program Leave It to Beaver.

Some of Mizrahi’s greatest achievements, however, went little mentioned by postmortem analysts: his designs for the stage. For his amigo-around-town, choreographer Mark Morris, he has created bright, fanciful work. Mizrahi’s costumes for Morris’s June staging of the Rameau opera Platee were, to use the overworked fashion term, “genius,” and Mizrahi will be designing for Morris again on two upcoming projects, including a work commissioned by the San Francisco Ballet.

But most of Mizrahi’s time now will be spent on his showbiz career. He has formed a film production company, Baby, which has a deal with DreamWorks to produce The Adventures of Sandee the Supermodel, based on the 1997 illustrated book that Mizrahi wrote. And he is working on a screenplay for Disney titled Wild About Harry. Can a stint starring in his own sitcom, like that of his absolute idol, Mary Tyler Moore, be far off?

Lemon writes for Interview and the Financial Times.

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