A NEW STAR IS RISING, BUT NOT TOO FAST
by Anne Marie-Schiro
Remember the name Isaac Mizrahi. He is this year’s hottest new designer. His first and only fashion show, in April, was so professionally executed, so tasteful and imaginative that it catapulted him into the big time...
Mr. Mizrahi is 26 years old and has been in business exactly a year, but his clothes have already been in the windows of major stores and have been photographed by every fashion magazine. This summer in New York his designs will be in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Stores as far afield as London and Singapore have ordered his fall clothes, which are as sophisticated as they are youthful. Think of the young Audrey Hepburn.
The young spirit is expressed in such daring color combinations as orange with pink, aqua with sky blue or mustard with rust. The sophistication comes through in the simplicity of the cuts and the quality of the fabrics.
”There are two sides to Isaac’s clothes,” said Kalman Ruttenstein, the senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. ”They have great creativity, vibrancy and youth, yet at the same time they’re very classic with a cool elegance.”
”Isaac is a very smart boy,” he added. ”He worked under great coaches and he learned very very well, which is all to his credit.”His coaches were Perry Ellis, for whom he worked while a student at the Parsons School of Design and for two years after his graduation in 1982; Jeffrey Banks, for whom he worked next, and Calvin Klein, for whom he worked until going out on his own.
”It had come to the point where my desire to work for other people was saturated, ”Mr. Mizrahi said. ”I felt drained. I had to break away at that moment, or I might never have done it.”
Unable to find financial backers, he went into business with a family friend, Sarah Haddad Cheney, who had worked in children’s wear.
”We put our money together – not a great deal of money – and incorporated last June,” he said. ”In July we took a loft, and in August we showed a holiday collection. Just a few pieces. Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s were the first stores to buy. We made all the clothes in my house.”
The spring collection was sold to 15 stores, and the fall collection has been ordered by 30 stores.”I don’t want to grow too fast,” Mr. Mizrahi said. ”I want to keep the business small and grow a little at a time. Every designer says he’s going to start a company and keep it small and then ends up selling to a hundred stores. My dream is not to be extremely rich, but to be self-sufficient. The greatest tragedy is not being able to fill orders.”
He is well aware that many young designers have been overnight sensations, but then could not deliver the goods and were forced out of business. He is determined that will not happen to him.
Ellin Saltzman, a senior vice president and the corporate fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, thinks he has the maturity and experience to go on.”What first impressed me about him was that he seems to have lived through enough to have thought it all through,” said. ”I think he has a good chance of succeeding if he’s not pushed too hard. He’s very aware of what’s happened to other designers and from working with Calvin and Perry he is very aware of what a designer-separates business is and how it should be run.”
Mr. Mizrahi also knows how to make clothes. To him, designing is not a matter of whipping up sketches and turning them over to someone else to execute. When he was 11 or 12, he said, he used money earned baby-sitting to buy a sewing machine. He has made his own clothes since he was 15 and even ran a small couture business after school.”I had a little studio in the basement of my parents’ house in Brooklyn,” he said. ”I love to cut and sew. I find it very relaxing.”
A week before his show, Mr. Mizrahi acquired financial backers, whom he would not identify. Now his business, with a staff of nine, is computerized and the clothes are manufactured by professional contractors. His showroom and office share a sunny loft on the top floor of a building in SoHo. ”I want to be away from Seventh Avenue but with a Seventh Avenue look, not a downtown look,” he explained. ”It’s important for every designer to be considered as an individual.”
He described his typical customer as ”educated, witty and literary in a way.” He said she is ”not a body type and not an age.”
”She’s an American woman who believes in American design,” he said, ”not one who loves European clothes. You see a European woman in a restaurant and she’s so done up, in a tailored jacket with lots of jewelry and her hair just so. An American woman in crocodile flats and a tweed skirt looks so much better to me.”
”My customer doesn’t need ostrich feathers or sequins,” he added.
Nor will she get them from his fall collection, which is priced from $200 to $1,200. The fall clothes include cropped jackets, alpaca blanket coats, scoop-necked jackets over full-legged trousers, short skirts and ankle-length dresses. For evening there are shorts worn with a velvet doublet; long, full skirts worn with crisp shirts, and chiffon jump suits. Among the stores outside New York that will carry his clothes are Neiman-Marcus, I. Magnin, Marshall Field and Nordstrom, as well as Ginza in Tokyo, Harrods in London and Daisy in Munich.
”His customer,” said Mrs. Saltzman, ”is a fashion-savvy woman from 25 up who’s very secure and wants to be the first with the newest and hottest, but not necessarily the offbeat.” Mr. Ruttenstein expressed some concern about whether customers would pay designer prices for an unfamiliar label. ”I think the name is an important ingredient,” he said. But Mr. Ruttenstein said he saw ”a bright future” for Mr. Mizrahi.
”Isaac captured the imagination of buyers and the press,” he said. ”He came along at the right moment, when the industry needed a jolt. Clothes have been relatively safe, expensive and a tiny bit boring. He has taste, timing and training.”
– from the New York Times, June 21, 1988