Creatively speaking

Celebrity: Fashion's former wonder-boy Isaac Mizrahi has designed another 'calling' as a TV talk-show host.

September 09, 2001|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

Hair askew and hands aflutter, designer Isaac Mizrahi is nervously standing in a kitchen, ready to tackle his next creative mission.

Squealing and whining, he whisks and grates and stirs and tastes before donning a pair of hefty oven mitts to present a deep dish of baked macaroni and cheese.

Not exactly the masterpiece the fashion world probably expects of its former wonder-boy. But, considering the unexpected turns Mizrahi's life has taken in the past three years, perhaps it should be.

Since Chanel Inc. shuttered the celebrated designer's fashion house in 1998, Mizrahi has flaunted a knack for chameleonic surprises. He's played a small role in Woody Allen's Celebrity, starred in an off-Broadway one-man cabaret show titled LES MIZrahi and he recently unveiled a bold architectural endeavor -- designing 26 apartments in Midtown Manhattan.

This week, the 39-year-old Brooklyn native takes fans along on his culinary foray as part of his latest stab at reinvention -- a weekly talk show on Oxygen network that makes its debut 10 p.m. Wednesday. In The Isaac Mizrahi Show, touted as a "documentary-style" series, fans can watch as he designs a dress for Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, has manicures with Saturday Night Live cast member Ana Gasteyer and goes clubbing with actress Rosie Perez.

"I'll tell you something," Mizrahi says conspiratorially in a phone interview from New York, "this is, like, the best job I ever had. I feel like it's my calling. I always knew that I was born to do something like this, with communication and personalities. I just can't get enough of it."

The question is, will his viewers feel the same?

"Hi, I'm Isaac Mizrahi," he begins in his premiere episode. "My show is about people -- talking to people and doing things while talking to people, all kinds of insane, fun things."

The idea for the show grew out of Mizrahi's belief that his friends and colleagues are fascinating people who sometimes need a different forum than a regular talk show to let their fabulousness shine through.

"When I was doing fittings, the conversations I had with people were always so fabulous, or when I was sitting there knitting or cooking with somebody, the conversation always inevitably turned to some fantastic stuff," Mizrahi explains. "I just thought this would be a better way to talk to people, to get things you wouldn't get if you were sitting around just talking about a project that someone's promoting."

And so Mizrahi dreamed up a show where he could pick guests he'd love to hang out with and figure out fun things to do with them. Then he began conversations with Dori Ann Berinstein, executive producer for Oxygen.com. Berinstein was executive producer of 1995's documentary Unzipped, which followed Mizrahi through a fashion season and won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Berinstein says she had always believed that Mizrahi belonged in front of a camera.

"He has an amazing talent that really needed to be onstage and screens small and large," she says. "Isaac is one of a kind. He's a brilliant conversationalist, he just knows so much about so many different topics, he sings and he's a creator himself. This show is so much about following the creative process of something, whether it's designing a dress or doing a photo shoot, and Isaac is inspired by people who are as creative as he is."

In addition to seeing him design the gorgeous 1940s-style black lace dress that Parker wore to the opening night of The Producers in April, viewers also can follow him as he shops for stilettos with Emmy Award-winning actress Bebe Neuwirth and creates costumes for the American Ballet Theater.

And Mizrahi does it all with his signature over-the-top humor.

"You know what I did the other day?" he says to two New York Liberty basketball players in the first episode. "I cut the sleeves off a T- shirt and I LOVED it! I looked so cute in it!"

Some, however, wonder whether Mizrahi has enough popular appeal for his talk show to succeed.

"People in fashion miss him, but I don't know how well the rest of America relates to him," says Phillip Bloch, a Hollywood celebrity stylist and friend of Mizrahi's. "He's great at what he does and everything he does is funny and I appreciate it. But his world is a little selective, shall we say. In his show, it's like, 'Oh, [fashion doyenne] Polly Mellen came over to my house| cm SUPDLR|' but who knows who Polly Mellen is other than people in fashion? I'll watch him, I think he's great. But it could be a very selective audience."

While those in Mizrahi's previous life are cheering him on, many still are mourning the demise of his fashion house. Mizrahi, who was known for a playful femininity that once led him to attach fur doughnuts to women's suits, was widely thought to be following in the successful footsteps of Calvin Klein or Donna Karan.

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