THE MIZRAHI SHOW: In advance of its latest exhibition, “Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History,” which opens Friday, The Jewish Museum invited members of the press to a brief conversation between Mizrahi and Lynn Yaeger on Tuesday morning. Breakfast was provided by Russ & Daughters, which recently opened a location on the museum’s lower level, before the discussion kicked off with opening remarks from Claudia Gould, the museum’s Helen Goldsmith Menschel director and Chee Pearlman, the exhibit’s guest curator.
Mizrahi kept the audience laughing throughout the talk, from revealing his distaste for mannequins — “They’re unyielding and impossible and I hate them” — to admissions of being a homebody. He also expressed his love of theatrical performances: “To be a minstrel singer with a top-hat and a cane — that is my destiny. I’m sort of a minstrel singer trapped in the body of a fashion designer,” he said. “I am transitioning.”
At one point, Yaeger asked Mizrahi if he had “impostor syndrome” — if sometimes, as a designer, he suffers from moments of self-doubt. Mizrahi conceded, “I walked into one of the rooms at the museum, it was humidity-controlled, and they had my sketches out on the table as though I was like, Leonardo [Da Vinci] or something. They were handling them with gloves. At that moment I became very emotional, to see them edited, to see the sketches in this hermetically controlled environment with conservators handling them. I thought, ‘What the hell?’ I had this crazy emotional response.
“The question still is, ‘What to put in museums?’ The question’s been posed a lot…and I’m not sure what the answer is. But I think what needs to go in museums is stuff that isn’t boring. Visual stuff that has some kind of emotional content and that is not terribly boring.”
Looking back on his 30-year career, he also had some observations on the fluctuating trends of the modeling industry. “Now, when I work with models, it’s just a completely different thing,” he said. “It’s not that they’re not healthy…but I think a little shape, a little meat on someone’s butt and thigh is quite a beautiful thing. Naomi Campbell has some pretty good legs, and we thought she was thin at the time.” On the comparisons between American and European designers, Mizrahi was dismissive: “It’s something that I will not acknowledge. I don’t think there’s a difference between good clothes and other good clothes. If I were an editor, a journalist, I might care. But as someone who creates clothes, I merely do what I think is the right thing.”