15:44
TED2008

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion and creativity

Filmed:

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi spins through a dizzying array of inspirations -- from '50s pinups to a fleeting glimpse of a woman on the street who makes him shout "Stop the cab!" Inside this rambling talk are real clues to living a happy, creative life.

- Fashion designer
Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi mixes high fashion and the mass market, with a line of haute couture and a line for Target. Plus a talk show, a cabaret act, a movie, a new book ... Full bio

I have, like, a thing about sleeping.
00:18
I don't sleep that much,
00:20
and I've come to this thing about, like, not sleeping much
00:22
as being a great virtue, after years of kind of
00:25
battling it as being a terrible detriment, or something.
00:27
And now I really like sort of sitting up, you know.
00:29
But for years I've been sitting up
00:32
and I think that, like, my creativity is greatly motivated by this kind of insomnia.
00:35
I lie awake. I think thoughts. I walk aimlessly.
00:41
Sometimes I used to walk more at night.
00:46
I walk during the day and I follow people who I think look interesting.
00:48
(Laughter)
00:52
And sometimes -- actually, once it was on Page Six in the Post,
00:54
that I was cruising this guy, like, sort of, whatever,
00:58
but I was actually just following because he had these really great shoes on.
01:01
And so I was following this guy.
01:04
And I took a picture of his shoes,
01:07
and we thanked each other and just went on our way.
01:08
But I do that all the time.
01:10
As a matter of fact, I think a lot of my design ideas
01:11
come from mistakes and tricks of the eye.
01:15
Because I feel like, you know, there are so many images out there,
01:19
so many clothes out there.
01:23
And the only ones that look interesting to me
01:26
are the ones that look slightly mistaken, of course,
01:28
or very, very surprising.
01:32
And often, I'm driving in a taxi
01:34
and I see a hole in a shirt, or something
01:36
that looks very interesting or pretty or functional
01:38
in some way that I'd never seen happen before.
01:41
And so I'd make the car stop, and I'd get out of the car and walk,
01:45
and see that in fact there wasn't a hole, but it was a trick of my eye,
01:49
it was a shadow, you know.
01:52
Or if there was a hole I'd think like, oh damn,
01:54
there was actually someone thought of that thought already.
01:56
Someone made that mistake already so I can't do it anymore.
01:58
I don't know where inspiration comes from.
02:02
It does not come for me from research.
02:05
I don't get necessarily inspired by research.
02:09
As a matter of fact, one of the most fun things
02:11
I've ever, ever done in my whole life,
02:13
was this Christmas season at the Guggenheim in New York.
02:15
I read "Peter and the Wolf" with this beautiful band from Juilliard.
02:19
And I did like, you know, the narrator, and I read it.
02:23
And I saw this really smart critic who I love.
02:25
This woman, Joan Acocella, who's a friend of mine,
02:28
and she came backstage and she said,
02:30
oh, you know, Isaac, did you know that, talking about Stalinism
02:31
and talking about, you know, like the '30s in Russia.
02:34
And I said, how do I know about Stalinism?
02:37
I know about a wolf and a bird and, you know,
02:40
he ate the bird, and then in the end you hear, you know,
02:42
you hear the bird squeaking, or something, you know?
02:45
So I don't really know that. I don't really --
02:47
actually I do my own kind of research, you know.
02:50
If I'm commissioned to do the costumes for an 18th-century opera, or something like that,
02:53
I will do a lot of research, because it's interesting,
02:58
not because it's what I'm supposed to do.
03:01
I'm very, very, very inspired by movies.
03:03
The color of movies and the way light makes the colors,
03:06
light from behind the projection,
03:10
or light from the projection, makes the colors look so impossible.
03:12
And anyway, roll this little clip, I'll just show you.
03:17
I sit up at night and I watch movies
03:20
and I watch women in movies a lot.
03:23
And I think about, you know, their roles,
03:26
and about how you have to, like, watch what your daughters look at.
03:29
Because I look at the way women are portrayed all the time.
03:33
Whether they're kind of glorified in this way,
03:37
or whether they're kind of, you know, ironically glorified,
03:40
or whether they're, you know, sort of denigrated, or ironically denigrated.
03:45
I go back to color all the time.
03:51
Color is something that motivates me a lot.
03:53
It's rarely color that I find in nature,
03:57
although, you know, juxtaposed next to artificial color,
04:03
natural color is so beautiful.
04:09
So that's what I do. I study color a lot.
04:11
But for the most part, I think, like, how can I ever make anything
04:13
that is as beautiful as that image of Natalie Wood?
04:20
How can I ever make anything as beautiful as Greta Garbo?
04:23
I mean, that's just not possible, you know.
04:27
And so that's what makes me lie awake at night, I guess, you know.
04:31
I want to show you -- I'm also like a big --
04:35
I go to astrologers and tarot card readers often,
04:38
and that's another thing that motivates me a lot.
04:42
People say, oh, do that. An astrologer tells me to do something.
04:44
So I do it.
04:48
(Laughter)
04:49
When I was about 21, an astrologer told me
04:50
that I was going to meet the man of my dreams,
04:54
and that his name was going to be Eric, right?
04:56
So, you know, for years I would go to bars
04:59
and, sort of, anyone I met whose name was Eric
05:01
I was humping immediately, or something.
05:03
(Laughter)
05:06
And there were times when I was actually so desperate
05:08
I would just, you know, walk into a room and just go like, "Eric!"
05:09
And anybody who would turn around I would, sort of, make a beeline for.
05:11
(Laughter)
05:13
And I had this really interesting tarot reading a long time ago.
05:16
The last card he pulled, which was representing my destiny
05:20
was this guy on like a straw boater with a cane
05:23
and you know, sort of spats and this, you know, a minstrel singer, right?
05:25
I want to show you this clip because I do this kind of crazy thing
05:29
where I do a cabaret act.
05:31
So actually, check this out.
05:34
Very embarrassing.
05:36
(Video): Thank you. We can do anything you ask.
05:38
The name of the show is based on this story
05:41
that I have to tell you about my mother.
05:47
It's sort of an excerpt from a quote of hers.
05:48
I was dating this guy, right?
05:51
And this has to do with being happy, I swear.
05:52
I was dating this guy and it was going on for about a year, right.
05:56
And we were getting serious,
06:02
so we decided to invite them all to dinner, our parents.
06:03
And we, you know, sort of introduced them to each other.
06:05
My mother was, sort of, very sensitive to his mother,
06:06
who it seemed was a little bit skeptical about the whole alternative lifestyle thing.
06:10
You know, homosexuality, right?
06:15
So my mother was a little offended. She turned to her and she said,
06:17
"Are you kidding? They have the greatest life together.
06:19
They eat out, they see shows."
06:22
They eat out, they see shows.
06:25
(Laughter)
06:27
That's the name of the show, they eat out, they --
06:29
that's on my tombstone when I die.
06:30
"He ate out, he saw shows," right?
06:32
So in editing these clips, I didn't have the audacity
06:38
to edit a clip of me singing at Joe's Pub.
06:41
So you'll have to, like, go check it out and come see me or something.
06:45
Because it's mortifying, and yet it feels ...
06:47
I don't know how to put this.
06:53
I feel as little comfort as possible is a good thing, you know.
06:54
And at least, you know, in my case,
07:00
because if I just do one thing all the time,
07:04
I don't know, I get very, very bored. I bore very easily.
07:07
And you know, I don't say that I do everything well,
07:13
I just say that I do a lot of things, that's all.
07:19
And I kind of try not to look back, you know.
07:22
Except, I guess, that's what staying up every night is about.
07:26
Like, looking back and thinking, what a fool you made of yourself, you know.
07:29
But I guess that's okay. Right?
07:33
Because if you do many things
07:37
you get to feel lousy about everything,
07:38
and not just one, you know.
07:40
You don't master feeling lousy about one thing.
07:42
Yeah, exactly.
07:45
I will show you this next thing,
07:48
speaking of costumes for operas.
07:51
I do work with different choreographers.
07:52
I work with Twyla Tharp a lot,
07:54
and I work with Mark Morris a lot,
07:56
who is one of my best friends.
07:58
And I designed three operas with him,
07:59
and the most recent one, "King Arthur."
08:03
I'd been very ingrained in the dance world
08:06
since I was a teenager.
08:08
I went to performing arts high school,
08:09
where I was an actor.
08:11
And many of my friends were ballet dancers.
08:12
Again, I don't know where inspiration comes from.
08:15
I don't know where it comes from.
08:18
I started making puppets when I was a kid.
08:21
Maybe that's where the whole inspiration thing started from, puppets, right.
08:23
And then performing arts high school.
08:27
There I was in high school,
08:30
meeting dancers and acting.
08:31
And somehow, from there, I got interested in design.
08:33
I went to Parsons School of Design
08:37
and then I began my career as a designer.
08:40
I don't really think of myself as a designer,
08:43
I don't really think of myself necessarily as a fashion designer.
08:45
And frankly, I don't really know what to call myself.
08:48
I think of myself as a ... I don't know what I think of myself as.
08:50
It's just that.
08:55
(Laughter)
08:56
But I must say, this whole thing about being slightly bored all the time,
09:00
that is what -- I think that is a very important thing for a fashion designer.
09:04
You always have to be slightly bored with everything.
09:07
And if you're not, you have to pretend to be slightly bored with everything.
09:10
(Laughter)
09:13
But I am really a little bored with everything.
09:15
I always say to my partner, Marisa Gardini, who books everything --
09:17
she books everything and she makes everything happen.
09:21
And she makes all the deals.
09:23
And I always tell her that I find myself
09:25
with a lot of time on the computer bridge program.
09:27
Too much time on computer bridge, which is, you know, like that's
09:30
so ... somehow, like, about ten years ago
09:36
I thought that the most unboring place in the world
09:39
would be like a T.V. studio,
09:42
like for a day show. Some kind of day talk show.
09:44
Because it's all of these things that I love
09:46
all kind of in one place.
09:50
And if you ever get bored you can look at another thing,
09:51
and do another thing and talk about it, right?
09:53
And so I had this T.V. show.
09:57
And that was a very, very, very big part of my process.
09:59
Actually, could you roll the clip, please?
10:02
This is one of my favorite clips of Rosie.
10:04
(Video) Isaac Mizrahi: We're back on the set.
10:06
Hi there.
10:08
Rosie O'Donnell: Hello, Ben.
10:09
IM: Look how cute she looks with this, just a slick back.
10:10
Man: Her grandmother says, "Delish!"
10:11
IM: Ah, wow, delish. All right. So now where should I position myself?
10:13
I want to stay out of the way.
10:19
I don't want to be -- okay. Here we go.
10:20
Do you get nervous, Ashleigh?
10:22
Ashleigh: Doing what?
10:24
ROD: Cutting hair.
10:25
A: Cutting hair? Never, never.
10:26
I don't think there was ever a day where I cut hair I was nervous.
10:27
IM: You look so cute already, by the way.
10:30
ROD: You like it? All right.
10:31
IM: Do you have a problem with looking cute? You want to look cute.
10:33
ROD: Of course I want to look cute.
10:34
IM: Just checking, because some people want to look, you know,
10:36
aggressively ugly.
10:37
ROD: No, not me, no.
10:38
IM: You read about all these people who have a lot of money
10:39
and they have kids and the kids always end up somehow, like,
10:43
really messed up, you know what I mean?
10:46
And there's got to be some way to do that, Rosie.
10:48
Because just because if you're fabulously rich, and fabulously famous,
10:51
does that mean you shouldn't have kids,
10:55
because you know they're going to end up getting messed up?
10:57
ROD: No, but it means that your priority has to be
10:58
their well-being first, I think.
11:00
But you have to make the decision for yourself.
11:03
My kids are seven, who the hell knows.
11:05
They're going to be like 14 and in rehab.
11:07
And they're going to be playing this clip:
11:09
"I'm such a good mother."
11:10
My God, this is the shortest I've ever had.
11:14
IM: It looks good, yeah?
11:16
A: I was going to ask you, has your hair ever been --
11:17
ROD: No! It's all right -- go crazy.
11:18
IM: I feel like it needs to be a little closer down here.
11:20
A: Oh no, we're just staging,
11:22
ROD: We're just staging it.
11:24
IM: Are you freaking out? You look so cute.
11:25
ROD: No, I love it. It's the new me.
11:26
IM: Oh, it's so fabulous!
11:28
ROD: Flock of Rosie. Wooo!
11:29
IM: So by the way. Of all the most unboring things in the world, right.
11:33
I mean, like making someone who's already cute look terrible like that.
11:38
That is not boring. That is nothing if it's not boring.
11:42
Actually, I read this great quote the other day, which was,
11:46
"Style makes you feel great because it takes your mind off the fact that you're going to die."
11:51
Right? And then I realized, that was on my website,
11:56
and then it said, like, you know, the quote was attributed to me
12:01
and I thought, oh, I said something, you know, in an interview.
12:03
I forgot that I said that. But it's really true.
12:05
I want to show you this last clip because it's going to be my last goodbye.
12:09
I'll tell you that I cook a lot also. I love to cook.
12:13
And I often look at things as though they're food.
12:16
Like I say, oh, you know, would you serve a rotten chicken?
12:19
Then how could you serve, you know, a beat up old dress or something.
12:22
How could you show a beat up old dress?
12:24
I always relate things to kitchen-ry.
12:25
And so I think that's what it all boils down to.
12:30
Everything boils down to that.
12:34
So check this out.
12:35
This is what I've been doing because I think it's the most fun thing in the world.
12:36
It's, like, this website.
12:39
It's got a lot of different things on it.
12:40
It's a polymathematical website.
12:42
We actually shoot segments like T.V. show segments.
12:44
And it's kind of my favorite thing in the world.
12:48
And it just began like in the beginning of February. So who knows?
12:51
And again, I don't say it's good, I just think it's not boring, right?
12:53
And here is the last bit.
12:57
(Video) IM: I have to tell you, I make buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk waffles all the time.
13:02
Chef: Do you?
13:06
IM: Yeah, but I can never find buttermilk, ever.
13:07
Chef: Oh.
13:09
IM: You can't find buttermilk at Citarella; you can't find buttermilk.
13:10
Chef: You can't?
13:12
IM: It's always low-fat buttermilk.
13:13
Chef: No, but that's all it is.
13:14
IM: Is that all it is?
13:15
Chef: Oh, you don't know? Let me tell you something.
13:16
Let me tell you something interesting.
13:18
IM: You know what? Stop laughing. It's not funny.
13:19
Just because I don't know that whole -- that there's no such thing as whole buttermilk.
13:20
Sorry, what?
13:25
Chef: Well, here's the deal. Let me tell you the deal.
13:26
In the old days when they used to make butter,
13:27
you know how you make butter?
13:29
IM: Churns?
13:30
Chef: For cream?
13:31
IM: Yeah, exactly.
13:32
Chef: So you take heavy, high-fat milk, which is cream,
13:33
and you churn it until it separates into these curds and water.
13:36
The liquid is actually that clear liquid.
13:41
If you've ever overbeaten your whipped cream,
13:43
it's actually buttermilk.
13:44
And that's what it was in the early days.
13:47
And that's what people used for baking and all sorts of things.
13:48
Now, the buttermilk that you get is actually low-fat or skim milk.
13:51
IM: Excuse me, I didn't know. All right?
13:54
Chef: The reason he thought that is because buttermilk is so wonderfully thick and delicious.
13:56
IM: Yeah, it is, exactly.
14:01
So who would think that it was low-fat?
14:02
Well, that's it. Thank you very much.
14:04
Happy TED. It's so wonderful here. I love it. I love it. I love it.
14:07
Thanks. Bye.
14:10

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About the Speaker:

Isaac Mizrahi - Fashion designer
Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi mixes high fashion and the mass market, with a line of haute couture and a line for Target. Plus a talk show, a cabaret act, a movie, a new book ...

Why you should listen

Design-wise, Isaac Mizrahi is best known for bridging the gap between high and low -- creating gorgeous couture confections for the likes of Eartha Kitt and others, as well as a hugely popular, groundbreakingly affordable line for Target.

His design mission comes wrapped in endless charisma. He's a talk-show host, he's performed his own one-man show Off-Broadway, he was the subject of the hilarious documentary Unzipped, and he does regular cabaret nights at Joe's Pub in New York City. His new book is called How to Have Style .

More profile about the speaker
Isaac Mizrahi | Speaker | TED.com