“I was offered the best job in the world,” says Mizrahi in his trademark conspiratorial rasp, on the phone from New York. “I remembered Liz Claiborne as this perfect, sterling thing from when I was growing up. Oh, I loved it. I loved her. Sure, the brand had gotten a little tarnished, but I didn’t take the job to acknowledge that.” Mizrahi likens the process of revitalizing Liz Claiborne to filming Unzipped, the landmark 1995 documentary he made with then boyfriend Douglas Keeve about designing a collection and organizing a runway show. “You don’t want to know how big the mountain is or you wouldn’t try to climb it.”
Judging by the fall collection — which is both elegant and totally wearable — Mizrahi is now on top. “I was thinking about flappers and lumberjacks — Scottish plaid and tartan,” he says excitedly. “Did you see that velvet dress? I’m crazy about that dress. But the main thing I’m inspired by are the women who buy [the line]. That makes me think logically, which is fun, because with the rest of my projects, I don’t necessarily think logically” — he lets out a hoot of laughter — “at all.”
Mizrahi’s other projects include designing his eponymous collection as well as costumes for opera and the theatre; his latest gig is hosting the Bravo! reality-TV series Fashion Show. But his day job is close to his heart. “The missing link was creating something that appeals to most women, which is really the only interesting thing left for me to do,” he says. “Doing a couture collection wouldn’t interest me. I want to please crowds of people.”
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Mizrahi can count Michelle Obama among his fans. In March, the First Lady wore a ruffled white Liz Claiborne blouse at a charity event in Washington. “[Michelle] is so great because she’s connected to fashion,” says Mizrahi. “It’s not just a matter of changing her clothes or wearing a particular brand — she takes the time to find the pieces that suit her.”
Mizrahi is all about targeted shopping these days. “When I was designing for Target, I believed that fast fashion really mattered, but now I’m not so sure,” he muses. “It makes sense to buy something that is a little better and will last longer or an amazing accessory that will look really fresh and shake up your wardrobe. But we also need to be able to shop more freely. We need to get over the fear that we’re never going to make another dollar again. We can’t be afraid of fashion.”
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