OUT EAST END
Q&A with Isaac Mizrahi
Fashion icon, singer, & writer on his career, coming out, & more
BY ANGELA LAGRECA
For a kid who was discouraged
from going into show
business, Isaac Mizrahi
certainly beat the odds.
“My parents didn’t want me in
that business and they were really
afraid of any of their kids going
into show business,” Mizrahi says.
“It’s hard and heartbreaking, and a
million to one that you are going to
make it — that was the message.”
Yet Mizrahi found his way to
success. For over 30 years he has
been a force in the fashion, television,
media, and entertainment
world, developing the Isaac Mizrahi
brand that made him not only a
fashion icon, but a TV star (a judge
on “Project Runway All Stars” and
host of his own show, “The Isaac
Mizrahi Show”) while regaling audiences
with his cabaret act at the
Café Carlyle in Manhattan and
theaters across the country.
His ISAACMIZRAHILIVE! line,
launched on QVC in 2009 under
the Xcel Brands Inc. umbrella, is
going strong, and he continues to
express himself through music,
writing, books, cooking, and his
Mizrahi says he is currently
most excited about several projects
in development: “One, a scripted
series, and the other, two more of
a reality thing.”
We caught up with Isaac Mizrahi
via Zoom from his home in Bridgehampton
where he has spent most
of the past year. His passions and
talents seem endless, and he says
he “works to relax.” At once affable,
energetic, self-effacing and hilarious,
he exudes love for New York
City and the Hamptons, his husband
Arnold Germer, and their two
dogs (not necessarily in that order).
Does it surprise people that
you love to sing, and is this
something you always did?
I collectively look at myself as a kind
of performer — I always have been.
My whole life I’ve been doing female
impersonations — Streisand
and Judy Garland impressions — I
started when I was eight years old.
It was not a source of pride in the
Isaac Mizrahi performing his cabaret act at the Cafe Carlyle on East 79th Street in Manhattan.
family to have this little female impersonator
I’m not Christina Aguilera or
that kind of “American Idol” singer.
I really try to hold my own with the
music, and it feels so great to do it.
I’m not sure if I’m good or bad, but
it doesn’t matter — it has to be to
be fascinating to watch this crazy
person on stage.
Describe your act and the music
I work with incredibly distinguished
jazz musicians, and what
we do is a kind of classical jazz arranging
of all kinds of songs, from
Irving Berlin to Madonna. The
shows I do are strung together with
these songs and a lot of stories and
dirt that I tell on stage. That’s really
what’s fun — connecting with
What was life like for you
growing up in Brooklyn?
I come from a Sephardic Jewish
background in Brooklyn — they’re
sort of affl uent, they don’t look like
typical Orthodox Jews. When I
was growing up, my parents really
weren’t orthodox but the Yeshiva
that I went to (Yeshiva Flatbush)
was. It was very, very confusing.
It couldn’t have been in a worse
environment for me growing up. I
don’t know how I did it. I got very
good at defending myself. It wasn’t
just bullying that happened from
my peers — rabbis were bullying
me, parents were bullying me —
they didn’t know what to make of
me. Like I said, I was doing female
impersonations, and I had puppet
shows and I used to draw these crazy
pictures and was always having
tantrums. I was a monster because
I was in the wrong environment.
This one teacher was so wonderful.
She understood I was in the
wrong place. She helped me get to
the Performing Arts High School in
Manhattan. It was one of the great
experiences of my life. It made me
who I am today.
How did the fashion part of
you come out and evolve?
I’ve always been good at it. I
started making puppets, and I was
good at sewing, and learned how to
sew that way.
My father was in the children’s
clothing business, and I was raised
to believe that movie stars were
these gorgeous people, and I was
also raised to believe that I wasn’t
so beautiful. There were all these
really gorgeous kids in my class
and then there was me: I was really
fat. I lost about 75 pounds when
I was a sophomore in high school.
I was just convinced that there
would be no money in show business,
so I decided to change gears.
My mom was obsessed with fashion,
and I really loved it, too. I think
it was an extension of my mother
— the magazines, her own obsession
with clothes, constantly shopping
with my sisters. It was kind of
a family obsession.
I went to Parsons (School of Design),
and then directly out of Parsons
I got the best job. I worked for
Perry Ellis, and I worked for him for
a long time, then all these other jobs
until I started my own company in
What was it like for you coming
It did not go well. My mother told
me, “Don’t tell your father,” and the
shrink I was seeing said, “Don’t tell
your father.” I felt very absolved —
”This is not my decision to make;
I am not telling my father, woohoo!”
I’m not going to say that I
was lucky at 20 when he died, but
it was a circumstance that made it
much easier for me to be the kind
of human that I am.
My mother went out and found
every book she could fi nd about
gay people. She was disappointed;
she cried, of course. I think even
now she is still not going to let go of
this concept of who I was meant to
be in her life. I feel very bad for her
— it’s not easy to live with that.
I feel legitimately that I am a
very early gay advocate and icon. I
remember when I fi rst started in
1986, everyone was so scared that I
came out in this cover story in New
York magazine. This guy who I used
to work with at Calvin Klein, a publicist,
said, “Oh darlin’, I’m so sorry
they outed you!” Three years later
there was a cover story on k.d. lang
with the headline “lesbian,” and I
saw that publicist, Paul, at a cocktail
party, and I said, “See that, Paul, I
was a lesbian way before k.d. lang!”
How is married life?
It’s fantastic. I have to say it was
hard over the pandemic — Arnold
wanted to get back to the city, I was
primarily out east, but we worked it
out and we are so solid right now. I
am the luckiest thing. I have the best
husband. (They married in 2011).
JUNE 3 - JUNE 16, 2 40 021 | GayCityNews.com