Life is full of surprises, and j’adore Isaac Mizrahi. I won’t hear a word against his cabaret show LES MIZrahi , unless it’s mine. I must be his biggest fan. I might be his only fan. But I don’t care if Isaac doesn’t.
I’m usually modest about these things, but I know a little about fashion. It is often supposed that the late High Priestess of Fashion, Diana Vreeland, brought to America the use of the word deeveen! (as in “Dee grass sure is green”). But it wasn’t Ms. Vreeland, actually. It was me. And it happened like this.
In time past-or as we say in the fashion world, temps perdu -I found myself sitting next to Ms. Vreeland at a chic Manhattan dinner party. Something must have gone wrong with the seating orrongements . Well, we got along like a house on fire. “Is it true what they say about spinashe ?” she asked me, as dinner was served by various surly male models in Armani evening wear. (And do you realize where that evening wear is today? It’s on display in the Guggenheim Museum. And it only cost Armani $15 million.) “Is it true what they say about spinashe ?” Ms. Vreeland asked sweetly. To be honest, I was lost for a moment. “Is spinashe good for you?” she explained. It was then, in one of those magically inspired moments akin to Newton and the apple, that I heard myself exclaiming: ” Spinashe ? How deeveen !”
Make no mistake about it. That’s how deeveen was born. Ask anyone. Ask Anna Wintour. I knew Anna before she wore dark glasses, and she was as lovely then as she is today. We used to go to the theater together sometimes, and if I had just one teensy-weensy little quibble, it was that we always seemed to leave at the intermission. Well, it wasn’t my place to say anything. But it worried me, until I realized that everyone in fashion always leaves at intermission. They think it’s the end of the show. They don’t know that King Lear dies .
Isaac Mizrahi knows. That’s why his show doesn’t have an intermission. He’s smart. He knows his audience. This is an audience, after all, who remembers that Gucci dressed Helen Hunt at the Academy Awards.
LES MIZrahi is the first of the Drama Dept. Cabaret series at the Greenwich House Theater in the Village, and this is the multi-talented Isaac Mizrahi’s cabaret debut. At a mere 38, the former fashion designer-though no fashion designer is ever quite “former”-is the Wunderkind those terrible people at Chanel pulled the plug on in 1998. Aren’t you just sick and tired of Karl Lagerfeld and his fan ? But I digress.
You might remember the puckish, neurotic Isaac Mizrahi as the subject of the very entertaining documentary movie Unzipped , directed by Douglas Keeve. It might have been entitled All About Isaac . He’s a born performer, though not all performers are born to perform. He took acting lessons growing up in Brooklyn and attended the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. He’s stage-struck.
Or as the fashion journalist said at the end of his show, “He’s sooooo gutsy.” That’s the trouble with people right there. They can be sooooo judgmental. The last thing those solo warriors in extreme danger known as performers wish to be called is “gutsy.” Not that Isaac Mizrahi minds. He’s unabashed and charmingly unapologetic. This is what he wants to do! So he’s doing it. He sings, he sews, he gossips, he sketches, he shows clips from vintage movies, he appears in great outfits, he doesn’t mind if cell phones ring. This is the big question: Who else on any stage in the whole wide beautiful world is currently whipping up a little something on a vintage sewing machine before segueing into “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You”?
As Isaac Mizrahi puts it in his version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Me & My Town,” which opens the show?
Clothes you outgrow and anybody can sew
Love me love my show.
As he entered in his black suit, he looked like the worried Bar Mitzvah boy before the big speech. It was a little too soon for love. One should never jump-start love onstage. (Life is different.) But he soon settled down. He was soon himself.
“We know who Norman Norell is, right?” he asked good-naturedly.
“Right!” came the chorus back.
LES MIZrahi is like having Isaac Mizrahi over for dinner, with songs and the Ben Waltzer Trio. Does it matter that he’s no Bessie Smith? This is a man who hands out Rice Krispies treats to the audience in case we need a sugar rush. “It’s not that he stinks,” he imagines us thinking about him. “We needed the sugar!” As he expertly cuts a muslin cloak from the old sewing machine his father gave him, he sets us thinking about the word “important”-as in, “Now that’s an important dress.”
Nothing could be more important. He mocks the fashion world with gentle ironies. He understands that it’s impossible to parody a parody. He’s camp, not queeny. He chats to us genially on a stool about his mum and the ladies’ dressing room at Loehmann’s with the huge underwear. He sketches the frocks he designed for Audrey Hepburn on an easel for us. “So in the end, it looked like an anemone with Audrey Hepburn’s head coming out of it.” Then he adds endearingly, “I do balloons later.”
He’s absolutely in his element. “Costume is everything,” he announces, having changed into a perfect white tie and tails. A polka-dot silk robe is worn for lounging, and the dazzling rhinestone number might be the reason he’s doing the show in the first place. He’s the showbiz version of Garage Chic. “See what you can do with crystals and a hot glue gun?” he says happily.
He delivers a charming “Tea for Two.” He doesn’t dance, but he might. His “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” isn’t too sad, his “When You’re Smiling” not too edgy. There’s no bitterness in him, no spite or malice. He gets such a kick out of being onstage! There’s a story that Elaine Stritch tells about appearing in a show with a child actor who was about 10 years old. A few minutes before the curtain went up on opening night, she was shaking with nerves in her dressing room. Everyone was, except the child. He was banging on everyone’s dressing-room door, shouting excitedly, “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time!”
Sometimes it’s just great to see someone who loves to be out there.