Front cover of “I.M.” Photo via Amazon.com
Long before there was “Odd Mom Out,” there was Odd Isaac Out.
Isaac Mizrahi was an overweight Brooklyn yeshiva boy who became the designer of Upper East Side socialites and Hollywood icons; then went from haute couture at Bergdorf Goodman to Target and QVC.
The closeted-to-out-and-proud Mizrahi, celebrity pal and fashion “It” boy really wanted to be an actor, but ultimately just wanted to be loved and accepted for who he is, now reveals how he did it in his new memoir “I.M.”
In a world where everyone wants to be seen as having an Insta-worthy life, Mizrahi lays it all on the line — the career high-highs and insomnia-provoking lows, the emotional roller-coaster of optimism and depression with a side of anxiety, plus bouts of imposter syndrome, even though he worked hard for his success (“I live to work”) and deserved every ounce he got.
He’s not bragging — just noting — about how he got into the prestigious High School of Performing Arts (the “Fame” school, now LaGuardia High School), started selling his designs while still a teen, graduated from Parsons, then went on to work to for Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, before starting his own eponymous line. After shutting that down, he established a joint venture with Chanel. “What I thought was going to be a steady, secure climb was turning into a rather slippery slope,” he writes.
Mizrahi is also very forthright about famous friends who ghosted him and those who broke up with him to his face, as in the socialite who told him she could not be seen in his clothes anymore because of his collaboration with Target. He is open about seeking peace of mind with shrinks and tarot card readers, and how when a few years ago the Jewish Museum presented a comprehensive tribute to his talent, which included a showing of “Unzipped,” the 1995 documentary about him, the designer watched in the dark and cried. Also described are his post-Chanel days filled with exciting entertainment projects, none of which worked out.
You needn’t have had to grow up in the outer boroughs or Orthodox or gay, nor toiled in fashion industry to relate to the one-time Oxygen TV show host; you just need to have experienced the loneliness and shame of feeling different.
I grew up in the Bronx, an Italian/Irish only child in an Irish Catholic neighborhood where all my peers had Brady Bunch-size families. Like Isaac, I was pudgy, then slimmed down in high school. I was artistic, as he was, escaping to Manhattan as he did in search of people with the same sensibilities. There were career ups and downs, and one or two re-inventions as well. Hence, closing this page-turner I felt I’d spent time with a kindred spirit.
I actually did spend time with him, albeit briefly, when I went to his Symphony Space book talk moderated by “Grace Adler” herself, the Emmy-winning Debra Messing. Even more poignant than reading his beautifully written account is hearing him share stories of family estrangement because of his homosexuality, his partying days at 54 and the like, as well plans for his next chapter (a talk show perhaps?) — all with philosophical chasers, such as how just because you’re family, doesn’t mean you have to force making up. “If people don’t want to have a relationship with you, move on.”
Although he is confident in his many talents, he seems less so about some of his choices. Perhaps that’s why later, at the book signing itself, the Carlyle cabaret singer seemed genuinely touched by my story of how my silver, gray and pink raincoat from his 2003 Target capsule collection, which I still wear, once caused a woman to chase after me on lower Broadway to find out where I got it. “Thank you,” he said to me, “I really appreciate knowing that.”
I look forward to seeing where Isaac Mizrahi will land after his book tour. With all the marginally talented people on television and streaming — many with equally mediocre fashion lines — it would be refreshing to tune in each day for a dose of brilliance, Mizrahi-style.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Fat Chick” and “Back to Work She Goes.”