Red carpet rascal

After scandalizing Scarlett Johansson, Designer Isaac Mizrahi working to create his own "perfect world."

isaac mizrahi 88 298 (photo credit: E! Channel)
isaac mizrahi 88 298
(photo credit: E! Channel)
"Isaac's broken his foot," announces Isaac's assistant. Isaac, of course, is New York fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, a very busy man these days. With Mizrahi heading up his new StyleBook magazine, launching a new couture line, appearing on Celebrity Jeopardy! (for the second time) and generally running around in a fashion frenzy like only a New York designer can, it's taken eight weeks of phone calls and rescheduled meetings to land this interview. And now it appears the interview will be postponed once again. "I don't need to interview his foot," I almost say, but Mizrahi, fortunately, has decided to go ahead with the interview despite his injury. "I was working out and I dropped a big weight on [my foot]," Mizrahi explains glumly. But his spirits pick up as we discuss his latest venture. The first task, however, is to set the record straight: Yes, Mizrahi is Jewish, but no, he's not Israeli. His last name reflects his family's Egyptian ancestry. "I've never even been to Israel," he says. "It's shameful really, and I don't even have any plans to go at the moment." While he loves the idea of visiting Israel and says he has many Israeli friends, his real reason for never having visited, he says, is that he doesn't like to travel. "I have to travel so much for work," Mizrahi says, "that when I do have time to myself I don't want to be anywhere near a plane." Nevertheless, he says, visiting Israel in the future is an idea to which he'll give "some serious thought." As for the designer's religious affiliation, Mizrahi says, "I'm a funny sort of anomaly. I feel incredibly Jewish and incredibly Zionistic in so many ways, but I find it's difficult to be a good Jew and gay at the same time." Despite the tension he feels between his religion and sexual orientation, the openly gay, Brooklyn-born Mizrahi says the Yeshiva of Flatbush - where he studied before eventually transferring to New York's elite High School for the Performing Arts - "was an incredible school." His official biography reports that he was thrown out of school for drawing fashion designs on his bible, but Mizrahi tells a somewhat calmer tale. "I was really a fish out of water at that school," he says. "I think they thought I was crazy and a really bad influence on the rest of the students, and they couldn't wait to see me leave." Asked by his parents whether he wanted to switch schools, however, Mizrahi said he felt it was important to stick it out at the yeshiva. And stick it out he did, until he finally transferred to the High School for Performing Arts after the eighth grade. "I felt liberated," he recalls. "And since then I swear I've been an easygoing and happy fellow." He's certainly easy to speak to, if you can keep up with his mile-a-minute banter. Mizrahi's known in his industry for being affable, approachable, smart, funny and quick-witted. And there's no way this man could have branched out in so many directions if he didn't indeed possess all of these qualities. (Many of them are captured in Unzipped, a documentary about the creation of Mizrahi's 1994 fashion line. The film features the designer's work with models at the absolute peak of the profession at the time, among them Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.) Aside from his fashion designs, Mizrahi is overseeing the newly launched StyleBook. He's had two of his own self-titled television shows, and then there was that recent sophomore appearance on Celebrity Jeopardy!. A winner during his first appearance on the show, Mizrahi's comeback fell slightly short, though the designer's participation on the show still ensured a donation of $25,000 to an animal rights organization. "I lost to [Simpsons voice] actor Harry Shearer. It was the clicker thing," he says. "I just couldn't work the buzzer. I'm a huge Jeopardy aficionado, and it was a real shame that I lost. Actually, it was rather mortifying." Speaking of mortified, actresses Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria may have felt the same way during highly-publicized interviews with Mizrahi at the 2006 Golden Globe Awards in January. Working the red carpet on behalf of the E! Channel, Mizrahi provided ample fodder for the celebrity weeklies by famously squeezing Johansson's breasts (to feel her dress), asking Desperate Housewives' Longoria if she shaved her nether regions (just making small talk) and nearly reducing Swank to tears with questions about the marriage between the Oscar-winning actress and actor Chad Lowe. (The two had announced their separation not long before the awards ceremony.) The interviews and all the subsequent fuss happened nearly 12 months ago, and Mizrahi says he hasn't "thought about the whole thing in a very long time," explaining that much of the news coverage was blown out of proportion and based on misunderstandings. As for accusations about his "fondling" Johansson, Mizrahi says, "I just naturally assumed I could feel her dress. I guess if I wasn't me, I might say, 'That guy just felt up Scarlett Johansson,' but I really was just trying to feel [the fabric of her dress]." Far more amusing than the event itself, he says, was when a friend brought back a newspaper from India with Mizrahi's Golden Globes antics plastered across the front page. "That was very funny," he says. "When something like that reaches India, you've got to laugh." He adds that he later watched a blooper reel from the same event and saw Joan Rivers poking someone else in the breast. "I guess it's okay for her to do it because she's a woman," he says. As for his interview with Longoria, Mizrahi says, "I watch Desperate Housewives, and every joke on that show is about [body parts], so I thought if I asked her about that she wouldn't be shocked, but apparently she was. So thank goodness I don't [do red carpet interviews] for a living!" Fortunately for Mizrahi, the designer has lots of other projects he's working on that don't involve the red carpet. He recently presented his latest couture line, a project he says went extremely well. In the spring, he plans to launch a new online venture that will allow customers to purchase his designs on his Web site. "It's my own little perfect world," he says. "It's really what the whole Web site and the magazine [StyleBook] are about." Mizrahi's line of affordable designs can be found at Target stores in the US, but the designer hasn't yet found an outlet for his couture lines. His online project may well be the answer. "I need a perfect little world somewhere," he says. "I don't know if I'll have a retail shop yet, but if I can find the perfect spot in cyberspace, then that's just fine." Meanwhile, he's also busy preparing for February's Fashion Week in New York, a new men's collection which will be coming out at the end of March and the costumes he's designing for an opera at the Met in April. All this will probably leave Mizrahi unavailable to do red carpet interviews again at next month's Golden Globes, which may just be a good thing for everyone involved.