Isaac Mizrahi. Native New Yorker. Fashion icon. Legendary designer. Cabaret star. New York Times bestselling author. There are so many ways you can describe this creative genius. Charming, funny, smart – I was able to get a sense of all of the aforementioned, as I was fortunate enough to have a quick, easy going conversation with Isaac, one Tuesday morning. We discuss his passions, career – and as someone who has dressed just about everyone, you know I wasn’t letting him go without asking about Liza Minnelli or Naomi Campbell.
Rahmel: Hi Isaac, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. How are you?
Isaac: Actually, I’m really good. You know, it’s a funny time. But how are you?
Rahmel: I’m doing really well. And it is a very funny time. You know, I think people are getting their feet wet a little with socializing and trying to get a new normal going, living life in a pandemic – but me, I’m still operating a bit like a hermit.
Isaac: Yeah me too, I mean thankfully there’s new drugs and the vaccine, there’s a shortage of it but in a matter of time, we’ll all have access to this great drug. So I think that’s going to bring a great deal of relief to everybody by maybe April or something.
Rahmel: Yeah, hopefully by the summer. A lot of people have spent their last two or three birthdays in seclusion. I know I brought my 30’s in alone in my apartment. So hopefully in the next year or so we have a new normal and more people would have gotten the vaccine.
Isaac, I didn’t realize we were both from Brooklyn. So let’s get into some things, just a casual chat between two gals from New York. I know you have a lot of exciting things that you’re working on. What are you looking forward to in 2022?
Isaac: I’m looking for change. A real kind of change. For the better in my life. And I feel like that’s gonna be the payoff after the past few years – everybody’s gonna, sort of have benefited from all of this. Believe it or not. It’s gonna be like, some kind of renaissance and I think it’s gonna take place in 2022. I do, I really do. And personally, what I’m looking forward to, is more, more work in show biz. More shows. More, more shows! I want to do more shows, I like that.
Rahmel: First of all Isaac, you’re a very talented singer. No honestly, you’re really good at it. And not just in the karaoke or cabaret style, Countess Luann de Lesseps eat your heart out – Isaac you can actually sing. I mean I love Luann, so no shade to her. I know in your memoir, you said that you found freedom through fashion. So what is it about singing? What type of feeling does singing emote from you?
Isaac: Thank you. Well, I’ll tell you what – fashion has been a very important part of my early career, you know, I really found something there, I was very good at it. It really helped me to make a little money and get outside, get out of the house. It was easy for me to get a job. But, I went to a performing arts high school as an actor, performer and all of that – but then I got really scared because of how difficult it is, you know, that the odds of getting cast, whereas the odds of getting a job as an assistant designer is something that I felt I could get immediately. So you can make some money, it was for the better, the odds were better. Now, and the thing is, with fashion, that was something – like cooking, it just came to me very naturally and I was good at it. People recognized that and it was a great start to my career. But the thing about singing is that I connect with people. So when I sing, it’s a very, really kind of chance to touch, a divine kind of sense of something. That’s how I feel when I’m singing, you know, fashion, I never felt that about fashion, I never felt I was touching a divine sense of anything. I thought it was, it was really about like these little details and running after this and kind of maintaining that – beautiful work and beautiful ideas and all of that, but there was nothing about it that was transcendent. You know, like, even when I was watching my shows backstage or right afterwards, all I could do is gnash my teeth or think God, that isn’t right. And the now isn’t right. And the constant critiquing. And that button was always on, constantly critiquing and there was no kind of ripping or letting go. You know what I mean? There was no real letting go. But with singing and performing, there is a great deal of that, you need to do that in order to succeed.
Rahmel: Right, yeah I would assume as a performer, right before taking the stage that you sort of have to be loose and uninhibited. It sounds like you feel more understood in this capacity, as a singer.
Isaac: Well, you know, I would say that, I feel more seen as a singer. Okay. You know, by the way, when I do a show, whether it’s cabaret show or a show, like a bigger audience, you know, like, when I do the show, when I do live shows, it’s singing and it’s storytelling. And it always tells this kind of story. It’s funny, you know, I prepare for months and months and months, especially the music it’s prepared for dementia. But when I connect with an audience and they’re laughing, or they’re listening or something, you know what I mean? It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I can’t even begin to tell you, you know, and there are definitely people who don’t like it, but for some reason they don’t matter to me. When I was in the fashion business, I was in that business of doing couture and runway and retail. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s scary, because then maybe they won’t buy it. But when you have an audience captive, they’re already there.
Rahmel: Performers say it’s the best high. It’s instant gratification.
Isaac: Yes, it is a kind of instant gratification. It really is.
Rahmel: I totally get that. I know you have some live shows coming up. You’re performing in Philadelphia and you have shows coming up at the legendary Cafe Carlyle here in New York. But, since we’re discussing your creative endeavors in showbiz – let me ask you about your acting. Since you have appeared on an episode of Sex and the City, I think in season four or five, have you been watching And Just Like That?
Isaac: Yes, yes I have. I have been watching it obsessively.
Rahmel: Okay, now I know the reviews have been mixed. But people just love to complain. I think it is such a treat anytime you get to see Sarah Jessica Parker on your TV screen. People, we have to be grateful! What are your thoughts on And Just Like That?
Isaac: That’s what I said. I mean, I agree with you a lot Rahmel. You know, I didn’t expect it to be so dark. But I kind of like it. It’s kind of serious. It’s almost like a metaphor, you know, in this way for what we’re all going through. But I have a great feeling about it. You know, I know all of those people. I know Michael, I know Sarah Jessica, I know Cynthia, I know them all. I think it’s gonna be this really, really great thing. And here’s the thing, I always think that we always kind of wanted more. Whatever they’re doing, I just want more. And I think they’re gonna leave us in a good place.
Rahmel: Isaac, I know our time is dwindling down. Now, you’re a gay icon yourself – but I would be remiss if I let you go without asking about some other icons. So I’m going to throw some names out there and you tell me about your experience with them or just general thoughts.
Isaac: Okay, sounds good.
Rahmel: Liza Minnelli. I know that you’ve dressed her, are you two also friends?
Isaac: Yes. I mean, you know, she is such a great friend. I mean, we haven’t talked in a while. She called me about, I would say two years ago when my memoir came out. And she was praising my memoir. And that was so sweet of her. She’s in it. You know, she’s in a very long chapter. And she’s a friend. She’s a mensch. You know, I mean that she’s so funny. It’s like, listen, I’ve known a lot of those girls. A lot of those stars, I’ve worked with them all. The thing about them is that they are not so much. You know, they will be kind upfront but they will leave you for dead. [But Liza] she’s like a real friend. It’s like, she’s a friend who will call and go… Did you hear about this or that? Or somebody passed away. How sad is that?
Rahmel: So is she just a normal person who just so happens to be an icon?
Isaac: [Laughs out loud] No, she’s not a normal person. But she is very, very sweet, you know? She’s a caring individual as opposed to this huge narcissist. She just happens to be the biggest star in the world.
Rahmel: Okay, well you can go as deep as you’d like on this next one – and I know relationships can be complicated, but tell me about Andre Leon Talley.
Isaac: You know, the thing about Andre is that no one had an uncomplicated relationship with him. It’s fashion, everybody had a complicated relationship with everybody. But he was the brightest [fashion] star in the world. And he was an incredible person. He was so funny, so giant, so entertaining and so supportive. And he was just great. Great at everything. I feel like he made up fashion. He made fashion what it is now. I feel like he made this all right. Without Andre, we would not be here.
Rahmel: I couldn’t agree more. Okay, someone that I adored very much. Joan Rivers.
Isaac: Oh my gosh. I loved her. I loved her every day. Every single day. And I used to see her a lot at QVC. And I would see her a lot on the red carpet – because for a minute, I was doing that number. I was doing the red carpets, she loved it. I wasn’t, I wasn’t so crazy about it. But I had a talk show and people obliged me to do it. So, I did it. She would look at me and say “Look, look where we are, look what we’ve achieved. How lucky are we?”. She was everywhere, and was so brilliant. She was a lovely person. Very, very special. Funny.
Rahmel: Joan would always say that she was grateful for every single booking. And not to rest on your laurels. You show up and you show out. And stay committed. And I truly think that’s what kept her going for so long.
Alright, next up. One of the supermodels. Naomi Campbell. Have you met her new born baby girl?
Isaac: No, I have not. I have not seen Naomi in so long. Okay, I have to say it’s like, you know – years and years and years ago, I think she’s a very, very different person now. But when she was first coming up, when I knew her, she was learning and also creating herself. She was creating that famous supermodel persona. And so it was a very, very different thing. You know, in those days she was always late. She was crazy. But she did eventually show up. You know what I mean? But she was so beautiful. Like, seriously stunning. I mean, she’s still so beautiful now. And really, in this world sometimes, that’s kind of like, the most important part about somebody – is what they look like. And in her case, I think that’s really true. I think that’s really, really true. In a good way. I think it’s important that we have had this beautiful, beautiful woman in our presence for this long, you know. That’s how I have always felt, she’s so beautiful. I remember my mother in the 90’s was at one of my shows. And after the show, my mother – who was the funniest, like straightest, straightest old Jewish lady in the world, she said even I would sleep with Naomi Campbell.
Rahmel: Now when an old school Jewish mother says that, you know you’re gorgeous.
Isaac: Exactly. And just the way she moves, she was just stunning.
Rahmel: Alright, our last person. Someone you were very familiar with. Stephen Sondheim.
Isaac: Well, you know I’m sort of in denial about it, about his passing. You know, and of course, you have to understand that to me, he was the biggest guy, he was God, you know, and I’m sure to him, I was what… one of the billion gays who have adored him, but we did have a relationship. We had dinners and we went to the theater, we played bridge. We knew each other. But of course, I think we occupied different parts of each other’s psyche. That was for me, he was this grand, huge father and mother and everything. And simpatico. The stuff he did, he did influence me in a way and he made me understand that the commitment to excellence. There was nobody better at their job than he was. Like when he came to my work, I had a one man show off Broadway. And he was so praiseful. It was the opening number, which was a rethinking of a number of Anyone Can Whistle. I was so nervous and he was there and he’s a friend. And by the way, you can’t really tell what he thought, cause he was just such a gentleman. He would never be mean, you know, but he really seemed to like the show a lot. And he had a few notes that he wrote, he was really, really involved. And he said to me, to never, ever take a show for granted. Never, ever! Every show is a show – and like you said about Joan, you have to show up and show out. You can’t think that this is going to be the one to catapult you and make you into something. It’s not about that. It’s about every single shot, every night. And that was a great lesson. It was. The notes, it was difficult to hear him say but it was a very good lesson to learn.
Rahmel: Advice that you truly cannot pay for. Well Isaac, I know you have to go but I just wanted to thank you for your time. And I hope you have a great time at your upcoming shows at Philadelphia City Winery and at Cafe Carlyle here in New York City.
Isaac: Thank you, I’m really excited bout them. And I’m the first one back at Carlyle, I’m the opening act for in person shows. In person, darling. So I’m excited.
Rahmel: It’s gonna be great. Thanks again Isaac.
Isaac: Alright, bye bye.
You can check out all of Isaac Mizrahi’s upcoming shows at helloisaac.com.
All images sourced from Isaac Mizrahi’s Instagram account.