Isaac Mizrahi is having a moment.
While many of his fellow fashionistas are struggling to survive in an economy where aspirational shopping is as out of date as last season’s handbag, Mizrahi’s stock is clearly on the rise.
The 47-year-old designer who helped put Seventh Avenue on the pop cultural map by chronicling his life behind the seams in Douglas Keeve’s 1995 documentary “Unzipped” has once again tapped into the zeitgeist with two buzzed-about collections and as the centerpiece of a new reality show for Bravo called, suitably enough, “The Fashion Show.”
“I’m a ham,” says Mizrahi of his penchant for the spotlight.
His stint as reality show host is the latest in a long line of high-profile gigs for the peripatetic designer. Mizrahi was a household name and media darling in the mid-’90s, but backer Chanel shuttered his company in 1998. Undaunted, the designer shifted his focus to a dizzying array of activities that included a one-man show off Broadway, “a crazy cabaret act” for Joe’s Pub in New York City, hosting two talkshows on Oxygen and Style, penning a comicbook based on the life of a supermodel and designing costumes for the Broadway revival of “The Women,” for which he won a Drama Desk Award.
Mizrahi also brought high style to the masses in 2003 with his groundbreaking line for Target, becoming a ubiquitous presence on shows like “Oprah” and “Today.” Since parting ways with the company last year, Mizrahi has spearheaded the relaunch of Liz Claiborne, the working woman’s affordable label of choice that had fallen out of fashion since its ’80s heyday. Last month 500 women turned up to meet the designer at a personal appearance at Macy’s. “I hear there’s a waiting list for some things,” he says delightedly.
In addition, Mizrahi’s eponymous upscale line has garnered rave reviews among prestige retailers and his more well-heeled customers.
“I get bored doing only one thing,” says Mizrahi. “If I had to just design clothes and do fittings for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be happy. The bigger the challenge, the happier I am.”
These days he’s downright ecstatic having spent practically every minute of the past month shooting “The Fashion Show,” which premieres May 7. “This is the most fun, most engrossing job in the world,” says Mizrahi, who acts as “host and head judge” along with co-host Kelly Rowland and New York style czarina Fern Mallis. The series pits 15 aspiring designers against each other as they stage a runway show each week judged by a live audience and viewers. “After every elimination, I feel like sobbing,” he says.
“Isaac is the perfect storm for Bravo,” says Andy Cohen, Bravo’s senior VP, original programming and development. “He represents credibility, salability, mass market consumerism and high fashion, and he’s got an amazing personality that makes him fun to watch.”
If “The Fashion Show” can fill “Project Runway’s” stilettos for Bravo, it stands to do much to further Mizrahi’s trademark — not that he’s even thinking about that. “I’m not doing a reality television show because it serves my brand,” he says. “I respect people for doing that, but I’m doing it because it’s really fun.”
While Mizrahi maintains that his current television gig isn’t part of any grand plan for a full-time career in showbiz, his dreams for the future seem to indicate otherwise. “Ultimately, I do love the idea of writing, directing and producing movies — whatever that means,” he says. “It’s starting to take shape. I’m always communing with the gods.”