On The Avenue

Fashion’s Renaissance Man

by AVENUE insider Photographed by Isaac Mizrahi sketches a pattern from his 2013 luxury home furnishings textile collection for S. Harris.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
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On view from March 18 to August 7, 2016, Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History is the first museum exhibition to focus on the acclaimed Brooklyn born and raised fashion designer, artist, pop culture icon, and entrepreneur.


Mizrahi’s creativity crosses creative bridges of all kinds into acting, directing, set and costume design, writing, and even a cabaret performance! The exhibition showcases all the ways the influential cultural personality used to explore his artistry, as well as tracing the evolution of his clothing designs from the first collection in 1987 to present day.

The exhibit is one-of-a-kind as it is the first survey to ever collect over 250 of Mr. Mizrahi’s works, including clothes, costume designs, sketches, with swaths of fabrics for an added tactile experience of the museum visitors, behind the seams photographs, and immersive video installations that illustrate a portrait of the man who has always been at the intersection of high style and popular culture. From these video installations and sidebars, the visitors learn of the man behind the colorful gowns as someone who was one of the first to cast unconventionally beautiful models of all ethnicities, dressed in Star of David belts, Western wear-infused lace, Adidas sneakers in place of high heels, handbags worn as hats, or the ultimate high meets low, a humble cotton T-shirt paired with a taffeta ball gown skirt. Combining opposites is a signature of the designer and what set him apart from his contemporaries through the years.

Mizrahi is also known for his outsized personality and witty charm that made him a beloved television and film figure, granting appearances on Project Runway, his own QVC network show, and a subject of a documentary film. As the exhibit’s guests stroll through the museum’s hallways, they’ll get to know more about the man behind the legend as well, getting a glimpse into designer’s private world of inspiration and passion.

The thorough exhibit is organized around key themes in Mizrahi’s work: use of color and prints, issues of race, religion, class, and politics, including his iconic designs from the Isaac Mizrahi New York clothing label (1987–98), the “semi-couture” collections (2003–11), and his trailblazing line for Target (2002–8). Some of the highlights include the  Ball Gown Sport (1994), which pairs a lavish ball gown skirt, complete with crinoline and bustle, with a cotton T-shirt way before move actresses of today adopted the look for the red carpet. Some other standout pieces include Swirl (1990), a collaboration with artist Maira Kalman inspired by Henri Matisse’s hand-painted costumes for the Ballets Russes, Exploded Tulip (1992), which pays homage to the photographer Irving Penn’s Flowers series, High and Low (2004), which pairs a Target sweater with luxurious hand-beaded lace pants re-embroidered in cashmere, and Grand Pupa (2009), a hand-painted dress that draws inspiration from the insect kingdom. Don’t forget to check out Mizrahi’s installation of 12 theater and opera costumes, which include 3 coats created by the designer specifically for the show.

The stunning show created by Chee Pearlman concludes with a three-screen video installation showcasing archival footage of Mizrahi’s runway shows, the documentary Unzipped, as well as some scenes from Mizrahi’s live show and cabaret performance, thus marrying all the facets of this multi-talented New York’s own Renaissance man.

Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History is accompanied by a series of public programs, including film screenings, gallery talks with the designer himself and his art world colleagues, panel discussions, and more. For tickets and more information on the programs schedule, visit thejewishmuseum.org.

Photos courtesy of the Jewish Museum.


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