In the 1995 documentary Unzipped, Isaac Mizrahi is a flurry of genius, spouting ideas and stories and impersonations. He’s a fashion designer at the height of his fame, smoking cigarettes and hanging with his pals Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. His wonderfully introspective new memoir, I.M., makes clear that Mizrahi is still the same creative force of nature, just polished down and with more years under his well-crafted belt.
The youngest of three children in a conservative Brooklyn family, Mizrahi was an outlier from the get-go. “The Syrian-Jewish community had never seen anything like me before,” he writes. “I stuck out like a chubby gay thumb.” While his peers were playing ball, Mizrahi was sewing costumes for his puppet shows and belting out Liza Minnelli tunes. He was perhaps destined to be a designer: His mother subscribed religiously to Women’s Wear Daily, and his father manufactured children’s clothing. But while his parents could tolerate—even nurture—his creativity, their hearts were not open to the possibility of a gay son. He thrived at Parsons, an elite Manhattan design school, but essentially lived a double life for years throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s: dutiful Jewish son at home, openly gay man in the city.
Even as he struggled with his personal identity, Mizrahi’s star rose as he worked at Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein and opened his own atelier. He gained a reputation as the rare male designer who really understood women and their bodies, in part because of conversations with his mother about fashion. “Any kind of fashion sets down its demand for a singular kind of perfection; one way or the highway,” he writes. “It translates essentially as one large punishment on women. Only recently are we beginning to acknowledge that beauty is a broad subject, one in which all people can participate.”
I.M. is as generous a memoir as I can remember. Mizrahi lays bare his struggles with body image, insomnia and relationships. He meditates on the fickle nature of the fashion industry and spills a little tea on his many celebrity friends. The book is like a classic Mizrahi design: joyful, colorful and always with a twist of the unexpected.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Isaac Mizrahi.