Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History

July 27, 2016

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On Saturday, June 4th I decided to see an exhibit at the Jewish Museum located on Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street in Manhattan. Why was I interested in doing this? Number One, I’ve always been interested in Isaac Mizrahi, who is often described as an American fashion designer, artist and entrepreneur.

The exterior of the Jewish Museum at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street

Number Two, I was curious to see this remarkable museum because I had never been there. It was founded in 1904 and since 1947 has been housed in the Warburg Mansion that was designed in the style of a French Gothic château. The chandelier and decorative wooden ceiling panels on Floor 2 (where the Mizrahi exhibit is located) are original details of the building -- which is spectacular.

Number Three, if you go on a Saturday, there is no admission fee (usually $15). That’s a nice feature that attracts visitors. Also, for me at least, the trip uptown was very easy. I took the #6 Lexington uptown subway, got off at 96th Street, walked back to 92nd and then over to Fifth.

And Number Four, I accidentally saw the dates for the exhibit: Mar. 18-Aug. 7 and said to myself, “Get moving or you’ll miss out completely.” (This happened recently with the Kips Bay Designer House. I think I’ve learned a lesson.)

THE EXHIBIT: WHAT TO EXPECT

This show features more than 250 works, including clothing and costume designs, sketches and photographs. Mizrahi is best known for his clothing designs but, in the past 30 years, he has also embraced acting, directing, set and costume design plus cabaret.

The Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum

The museum exhibit is organized thematically – exploring key trends in Mizrahi’s work. The show is comprised of 42 “looks” that include clothing, hats, jewelry, shoes, accessories and costumes for the theatre, opera and the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Photo: Courtesy of the Jewish Museum

THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHOW

For me personally, I thought the floor-to-ceiling three-screen video presentation was one of the best aspects of the exhibit. It showcases a variety of scenes drawn from film and TV plus runway shows – as well as clips from the award-winning Unzipped, a witty and insightful documentary about the making of his fall 1994 collection. This earned Mizrahi and director Douglas Keeve an award at the Sundance Film Festival.

One of my favorite pieces in this exhibit is The Exploded Sequin Parka. It is made of a wool Melton fabric that is densely decorated with sequins. It also sports a super-lush fox fur trim. Not for PTA meetings, that’s for sure. Another is a striking hand-painted linen canvas coat with custom-made Baccarat crystal buttons. You’d cry if you lost one of those buttons.

The “Exploded Sequin Parka” with a fox fur trim

HOW DOES THIS EXHIBIT STACK UP?

Overall, I thought it was excellent. However, I must confess that my all-time favorite fashion exhibit is Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum, May to August 2011 that drew a mind-boggling 661,509 visitors. But I don’t really think this is a fair comparison because McQueen’s flamboyant lifestyle and untimely death has to be factored into this overwhelming response. However, the McQueen exhibit itself was a mind-blowing experience that is going to be hard to beat. [See Adea’s take on this event at The Legacy of Alexander McQueen]

WHERE TO TAKE A BREAK

Museums take stamina and energy to enjoy so if you’re feeling peckish you can go down to the Jewish Museum’s Level B to the Russ & Daughters restaurant. It’s here that diners can kick back in booths while feasting on a sit-down meal or, buy bagels and other appetizing delicacies, to enjoy at home. Mizrahi says, “This place has great vegetarian chopped liver.” [See Adea’s write-up of this cultural icon at Leaving Your Comfort Zone]

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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