Unlike many in his generation, Isaac Mizrahi is as much a pop culture icon as a fashion designer. But, despite his flamboyant personality, the designer, who first shot to fame in the 1980s, largely kept his personal life under wraps.
In his new memoir “I.M.,” Mizrahi offers a candid and often touching look back on his experiences, and the designer will be coming to the Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton on Wednesday, March 13 to share many of the most memorable stories.
“A really long time ago—literally seven years ago—I had dinner with this friend who was a very important book agent. I was telling him about this idea for a book, a scrapbook kind of visual book before my retrospective at the Jewish Museum, when the suggestion to write a memoir came up,” Mizrahi recalled. “I didn’t want to write a memoir, but I started tinkering with it and before I knew it, I was deeply into the project, above and beyond any expectation. It became a kind of incredible task, an incredible soul-searching task, cathartic.”
Much of the book is devoted to his early years, growing up gay in a sheltered Syrian Jewish Orthodox family and his “beautiful” relationship with his mother.
“We saved each other,” Mizrahi said. “The Sephardic Jewish community is not your typical Jewish community…it doesn’t value education the way most Jews do. They don’t stress education, especially for women. She was incredibly well read and, honestly, she read everything printed, went to museums and performances and, in that community, it really wasn’t done. I was the crazy kind of misfit, but she was less of a misfit than me, and we clung together and helped each other. We were there for each other through all the negativity.”
At the famed LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts, he “found his people” (and appeared in his first movie, “Fame”). As a budding fashion designer, he worked with Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, before launching his own label. The rest, as the old saying goes, is history.
“I’m going to quote myself now in the book, the first sentence of a certain chapter says: ‘Had you told me at a young age that I would become this famous designer and fly around the world and have these glamorous shows, but had you also told me at that age, that I would grow up and be out and [a] happy homosexual, that I would have a fulfilling sex life and a wonderful sex life, I would have told you that you were crazy. That was the big surprise of my life,’” he said.
Mizrahi has been married to Arnold Germer for nearly eight years and the couple has managed to find a balance between the demands of the designer’s life and the need for intimacy.
“Even after I met him, I never expected that kind of happy ending at all and that’s maybe why it happened. I expected to be married to my work. One of the great things about Arnold is he understands and we maintain a peaceful separation at times, because we met each other late in the game. Young people have a very romantic notion of love. We do share a deep, deep love and a strong togetherness, but better than that we share a wonderful apartness,” Mizrahi explained. “Arnold has not forced me to make that choice. You don’t have to choose.”
And Mizrahi’s advice to the young gay people who may find inspiration in his story?
“Persistence. The great thing, the unexpected boost that you have, that’s why they call it a gift…All of the machinations of getting there is not about the success or the money or the fame or the exposure, it’s knowing that you like to do that thing. If I had one word of advice, don’t sweat it and persist. Don’t listen to people. People have the worst advice,” he concluded.
Isaac Mizrahi will discuss his new book, “I.M.,” on Wednesday, March 13 at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. reception) at the Levis Jewish Community Center Sandler Center, 21050 95thAve. S. in Boca Raton. General admission is $36 at LevisJCC.org.