Isaac Mizrahi, 1990

Mizrahi elaborates on his Spring/Summer 1990 collection for CNN’s Elsa Klensch

Twenty years ago, New York saw the rise of the first generation of American designers who could oblige the post-modern values which had begun to alter the course of fashion; negotiating the tricky re-evaluation of luxury, exclusivity, and glamour. Let’s call them the post-Perry Ellis generation: designers who had witnessed Ellis’s subversion and repositioning of classic Americana and his cheery exploitation of the sacred and profane. Ellis had pulled off a coup in American sportswear, essentially creating “anti-fashion” with his kitschy motifs, wrinkled fabrics, and casual ease. He challenged almost every notion of bourgeois or preppy good taste and appropriate dress and he was loved for it. One important value that Ellis would impart to this new generation would be a steadfast strain of individuality – designing clothes that could act as a total macrocosm for the wearer, a solipsist cocoon that could staunchly withstand any outside pressures (a terribly American idea, of course). Ellis, and those who followed him, made clothes that seemed immune to to any imposing fashion discourse; they were not reactionary because they existed in their own universe and could never know anything beyond it.

The other important impression that Ellis would leave, in fact, it is the most important idea behind Ellis’s legacy, is humor: the ability to laugh and have fun — to brush the weight of the world off your shoulder and not charge ahead, but skip merrily. It would open up a whole new set of paradigms for the ‘90s and allow for innovations not only in design but fashion marketing and culture. And so, 20 years ago, as fashion was moving on from a global economic upset, while Paris had Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang and Milan had Miuccia Prada, each laying the blueprints for a new world order of fashion; New York had Isaac Mizrahi…

Mizrahi’s Spring 1990 collection

Mizrahi was a true Ellis protégé, having assisted the designer early in his career before moving on to Calvin Klein where he designed under Grace Coddington. He went his own way in 1987 and by 1990 he was officially the star of New York fashion with his collections creating a heady and feverish excitement, as anything so startlingly fresh and new would. Mizrahi was as indebted to Ellis as he was to couture, or rather his fascinations with couture; his work being largely about defining the threshold between the ultra luxurious and the ultra casual. Mizrahi’s clothes seemed to encapsulate the bizarre universe where the histories of the grand couturiers, the American lineage of sportswear, and the directional nuances of minimalism could engage each other in harmony. The results were fantastically easy clothes that were as grand as they were simple; one of the many sublime contradictions that Mizrahi would experiment with throughout his career. And always present in Mizrahi’s clothes at the time, and still today, was an unfettered optimism. His ideas of fashion were always celebratory, a stance that would cause him to lose favor as moods changed in the late 90’s and the stark minimalist cool would hit its height, allowing no room for a twirl, a spin, a smile, or even a skip. But now, as fashion faces a similar impasse, there’s been revival of many of Mizrahi’s ideas, highlighting a particularly savvy although overlooked contribution that the designer made over 2 decades ago. And in the mean time, he hasn’t budged an inch.


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