March 26, 2019

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Mizrahi.

“The Memoirs of Solomon Maimon, the classic 18th-century Jewish autobiography, chronicles the struggle of a young man to express his personality and gifts in a Lithuanian Jewish community that had absolutely no use for them. As a boy, Maimon relates, he was starved for aesthetic pleasures; he loved art and would copy designs from the frontispieces of books, the only place he could find pictures. But his father saw this as a sheer waste of time: The only proper study for a Jewish boy was the Talmud, and he forbade young Solomon from drawing. Eventually, Maimon had to abandon his community—including his wife and children—and escape to Berlin, the capital of the Enlightenment, to find the life he yearned to lead.

I thought of Maimon often while reading I.M., the absorbing new memoir by the fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Mizrahi burst on the New York scene as a couture prodigy in the 1980s, and he has become a household name thanks to his mass-market collaborations with retailers like Target and QVC. He has also hosted a talk show, performed a cabaret act (whose earliest version was titled “Les MIZrahi”) and been the subject of a popular documentary, Unzipped. In all his incarnations, Mizrahi is known for being a “character”—bold, witty, and fun, the opposite of an icy fashion dictator like the late Karl Lagerfeld.

One might expect that Mizrahi’s memoir would be similarly fun—the story of a fabulous life spent among famous and beautiful people. And in its second half, that is what I.M. mostly becomes, full of sentences like: “Often after dinner, [Anna Wintour] would initiate a conversation among the three or four tables in her dining room: Joan Didion, Oscar de la Renta, Jay McInerney, Nora Ephron, Sarah Jessica Parker, Valentino, Salman Rushdie, Charlie Rose, George Clooney.””

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