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BOSTON — Isaac Mizrahi’s Target deal has been one of the fashion world’s worst-kept secrets. And it finally came to fruition Tuesday, when the retail behemoth announced plans to launch the Isaac Mizrahi for Target collection in August.

This story first appeared in the February 26, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Mizrahi’s first sportswear collection in four years will bow at 1,148 Target stores. The line will be swingy classics — trenchcoats, a denim circle skirt, a turtleneck sweater with wide stripes — priced $9.99 to $69.99, lofting it into Target’s upper echelon, price-wise. The pieces, modeled by Candace Bergen and daughter Chloe Malle in Vogue’s March issue, have a Gap-in-its-heyday vibe.

WWD first reported Target was in talks with Mizrahi about a collection on July 5, 2002.

The Target linkup marks a return for Mizrahi, who shuttered his business in 1998. And even now he can’t resist the urge to flirt with his old flame: glamour, celebrity clientele, the aura of exclusivity. The Mizrahi is also launching a couture business, IM to Order, dedicated to producing custom pieces for old fans, starlets and others who can afford the prices.

Reached while taping an episode of The Isaac Mizrahi Show for Oxygen Network, Mizrahi said his mission with Target is to create clothes for “women, with a capital W. This is not for girls. I’d say the average median age is 28 and up.”

He’s interested in good basics, “trying to make the chicest, sexy khaki trouser, the best white shirt, really wonderful sweaters. There’s going to be a lot of color. And a sense of humor married to classic, clean American designs.”

What it all amounts to for Mizrahi is “another chance,” said James Wright, partner in brand consultancy Lippincott Mercer. “He now has the opportunity to go into a very special retail environment that’s defined itself as being able to deliver international brand names to a mass market.”

Target declined to comment, but it’s likely the deal is similar to one the retailer inked with designer Mossimo Giannulli, who provides the trend blueprint for his namesake collections while Target sources and produces it. Licensing fees on Giannulli’s initial three-year deal — which has recently been extended until 2006 — allowed his firm to return to trading on the Nasdaq and catapulted Giannulli into the ranks of one of the highest paid executives in the industry. But, according to David Campbell, an equity analyst with Davenport & Co., the Mizrahi offerings will be smaller than the current Cherokee and Mossimo assortment.

“It sounds to me like they want it available to meet specialty fashion needs,” he said.

It makes sense for Mizrahi’s collection to target a slightly older customer — late 20s to 50 — because Mossimo has already gained traction with active-casual pieces for younger consumers.

Like Giannulli, Mizrahi has complained about being burdened by — and ill-suited for — operational responsibilities. Since he closed his design house, Mizrahi has busied himself with several projects, including his talk show, now in its third season.

DeeDee Gordon, co-founder of trend service Look Look, said the show has likely broadened Mizrahi’s audience beyond his old socialite clientele. “It’s like free advertising, especially since the women who watch Oxygen are the people he’d be talking to in [Target’s womenswear] department,” said Gordon. “And women seem to connect with him. He’s got a lot of charm.”

An advertising and marketing campaign will harness Mizrahi’s ease in the public eye. He said details have not been finalized, but that he’s “definitely in the ads.” In a statement, Target Stores senior vice president Trish Adams referenced Mizrahi’s personality, calling it a “perfect match for Target.”

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of Mizrahi’s career has been inopportune timing. His bridge collection, Isaac, launched just as the category crumbled. The company plowed into a retail expansion in Asia in 1997, just as that market collapsed. And in many ways, it’s a less rosy time to launch at Target, which has relied on coaxing discretionary dollars out of consumers’ wallets.

In fact, the retailer, which once registered string after string of positive comps, has faltered in recent months as consumers reined in spending. The stock is trading near its lowest valuation in five years and faces six months of tough comparisons against last year’s numbers, said Campbell.

Campbell and other analysts said while the Mizrahi announcement doesn’t change challenges Target faces, it does reinforce to Wall Street that the retailer is sticking to its strengths.