Isaac Mizrahi was born in Brooklyn and grew up sketching in his prayer books. The designs he drew and the puppet shows he would stage to pass the time at the Yeshiva of Flatbush would propel him into the world of fashion as an adult. On March 8, 2016, the Jewish Museum unveiled their groundbreaking exhibition of Mizrahi’s designs, delving into his impressive career.
Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History is organized thematically, providing viewers with a timeline through major trends in Mizrahi’s work – from colors and prints to racial, political, and religious themes. Visitors are guided through the designer’s career, beginning with his first collection in 1987. Mentored by Perry Ellis during his time at Parsons School of Design, Mizrahi went on to create his own brand.
At the exhibition’s core are pieces from Mizrahi’s New York-based collection, which ran from 1987 until 1998. His line drew inspiration from a wide range of cultural influences, from Inuit seal hunters to Hollywood icons like Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth. Mizrahi’s designs celebrate the offbeat, mixing and matching unlikely concepts such as hieroglyphics, drag culture, poodles, and war.
Mizrahi’s first fashion show premiered in 1988. The collection begins with muted, conservative colors such as grey, brown, and camel. Later in the collection, pops of color appear – a palette of oranges, new patterns, and introduced textures. The procession of garments becomes increasingly striking, changing the mood of the collection throughout. Accompanying the collection is a quote from Mizrahi, explaining that ‘Color is the biggest luxury there is. It affects you on a deep, emotional level that most people don’t think about. If you get the color right, you have the whole thing. If you get it wrong, it becomes a big distraction.’
In 1990, Mizrahi collaborated with Maira Kalman to create a collection titled ‘Swirl,’ which drew inspiration from Henri Matisse‘s hand-painted costumes for Ballet Russes. In 1991, Mizrahi went on to design his ‘Desert Storm’ collection in response to the Gulf War in 1990. He showed further inspiration from flowers and photography to the biology of insects. From 2002 through 2008, Mizrahi designed an affordable line for Target, and from 2003 through 2011, he worked on a ‘semi-couture’ collection. Ensembles, hats, shoes, and jewelry are all on display.
It’s not just ready-to-wear and couture fashion that Mizrahi has rooted himself in throughout his expansive career. Part of the exhibition includes 12 costumes from opera, theater, and dance productions for which Mizrahi designed costumes.
On explaining his incredible success, Mizrahi muses, ‘I think that the ability to laugh at myself sets me apart.’
Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History will remain on view at the Jewish Museum until August 7, 2016.
The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Avenue, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 423 3200
By Larissa Klaus