NEW YORK — Fashion has always been a bit of a stage for Isaac Mizrahi.
There were the elaborate fashion shows staged with full views of the backstage frenzy, the "Unzipped" documentary offering insight to Mizrahi's designs and demons and the theater stint in his one-man show, "Les MIZrahi."
The designer is now a step closer to completely merging the fashion and entertainment worlds with his sprawling new 10th Avenue headquarters here. When completed, the 18,500-square-foot space will integrate Mizrahi's ventures, from the To Order atelier of designers, seamstresses and patternmakers to the Target design team and a television studio for "Isaac," the new Style Network talk show to premiere Dec. 5.
The move is a huge step in Mizrahi's lifeline, which has been on a rebound since the demise of his signature collection in 1998.
"I am now trying to integrate everything," Mizrahi said. "There is the television show; the collection for Bergdorf's, which I am trying to grow, and the collection for Target. There are other licenses coming that I can't mention, but they will round out the collection."
Mizrahi said he would like to design men's wear "because I need clothes. I look for and barely find things to buy. Being a man, I see what's out there, I see what's needed. I see how I can add to it."
He unveiled the space to editors and friends of the house with informal modeling of his 14 new To Order and Semi Couture pieces on Tuesday. The designer recently launched a custom collection and added the quasi-custom line at Bergdorf's this fall.
The distribution of Semi Couture will extend this month to Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, and the spring Semi Couture pieces will reach Bergdorf's in late January. Jayne Harkness, president of the To Order division, said there is talk of expanding its reach to four major markets for Neiman's next spring.
For spring, Mizrahi's collection includes a three-panel cotton and silk dress, a gray wool and silk crepe suit, a camouflage silk crepe dress and a camouflage dress mixing leather, suede, bouclé and jet blue beads with ostrich and marabou feathers. To Order pieces retail from $8,000 to $50,000, while Semi Couture ranges from $1,200 to $7,500."Isaac has zeroed in on a niche in the business that has been incredibly valid," Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion and public relations at Bergdorf Goodman, said. "His couture and now the Semi Couture have addressed the needs and the lifestyle of the luxury-designer customer. He continues to evolve the line. I was [very] impressed with his presentation this time and the fact he always gives the customer something new to add to the wardrobe. I felt the collection in a lot of ways was like a modern-day Mainbocher in the sense of being very couture, but very American with the utmost in quality."
Bergdorf's is kicking off the new To Order pieces with a two-day trunk show today. Mizrahi will be on hand at the store on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. to give his personal advice to shoppers.
"Everyone used to ask me, 'Who is your woman?' I think, 'Who isn't my woman?' I don't like to discriminate," Mizrahi said. "It finds its level, like water finds its level. It's a passé approach to think you have to know your woman. I feel it's just the opposite. You don't tell them what to do, she tells you what to do. She's the one wearing it, she's in control, not you.
"I don't know who this woman is," he added, with a sigh. "She'll turn up."
Marisa Gardini, chief executive officer at Isaac Mizrahi, wouldn't disclose the company sales volume, but said: "Everything is healthy, strong; it's growing and we are really happy."
Phase one of the new space's construction has been completed and "Isaac" started taping in front of a live audience of 50 last week. The television studio's main feature is a square stage platform lit from underneath, where Mizrahi will interview guests. There are separate stages for the four-piece Ben Waltzer Band, which will accompany Mizrahi, and for special segments about solving fashion dilemmas. In addition, the studio has a high-tech kitchen for cooking segments.
In phase two of the construction, a 10-foot glass wall will be added to separate the taping studio from the design atelier, which will be in full view on the program.Gardini remained tight-lipped about the guest line-up, but said it will be a mélange of movie stars, celebrity chefs and fashion types. "We want to get fashion people," Mizrahi said. "I am just afraid to book Donna Karan. I know she will book on, and then she will be late. By the time she gets here, we will be finished with the taping."
Filming for the daily one-hour hybrid talk-variety show will continue through Dec. 9, and the show will run every weekday until March. In fact, a film crew followed Mizrahi around as he introduced the space to editors and friends on Tuesday. The designer was clearly tuned to the team, since he peppered his talk with TV-ripe sound bites and exclamations, which he often topped with the ubiquitous Mizrahi line, "Do you know what I mean?" Much to his surprise, his mother, Sarah, popped in at one point, which offered perfect fodder for the television crews. "It's awesome," Sarah Mizrahi said after touring the space. "It's so Isaac, but I didn't expect it to be so big."
When it came to picking his ultimate guest, Mizrahi chose Barbara Walters. "I want to do a hair-ography of Barbara, because you can tell a story with her hair," he quipped. "Now that's an important story to tell."
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