• U.S.


3 minute read
Martha Duffy

According to his doting mother, little Isaac Mizrahi delighted in the daisies on a pair of her mules when he was four. A few years later, he regularly pinched cash from his parents’ dressing table while they slept and used it to buy fabric at a Brooklyn dry-goods emporium. At 17 he whipped up a special purple suit to wear on his first trip to Paris. No surprise, then, that young Isaac became a successful fashion designer whose business straddles youthful downtown chic and conservative uptown department stores.

Now 33, Mizrahi is the subject of Unzipped, one of the smartest and most entertaining documentaries to come along in years. Unzipped is everything that Robert Altman’s fashion fizzle, Ready to Wear, should have been: funny, succinct and modestly instructive about a fairly recondite business.

The movie follows the designer as he prepares his fall 1994 collection. He is starting from behind. Critics trashed his previous collection, and he feels skinned by all the negative comment. Mizrahi is a witty, self-aware fellow, and his running commentary on his work life is often hilarious. He goes to see Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty’s classic 1922 documentary about Eskimos, and decides he wants to design only fur pants. He interviews hopeful models, although when his show finally opens, he seems to have hired only superstars like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Working with Eartha Kitt, who wears his finery when she performs, he nuzzles her overwrought lapdog and remarks, “It’s almost impossible to have any style at all without the right dogs.”

It’s all smart and glib and redolent of the kind of backchat–over the top or below the belt–that fuels the fashion biz. “It’s so major!” gushes Polly Mellen, creative director of Allure. The result could be trivial if director Douglas Keeve were not also focusing on Mizrahi’s gathering nerves. The low point comes when a staffer brings in a copy of Women’s Wear Daily that headlines the latest from Jean-Paul Gaultier, the tallest tree in Mizrahi’s particular sector of the fashion forest. Gaultier’s revelation? Eskimo chic. Mizrahi throws the paper on the floor.

Mizrahi and Keeve were lovers during the filming, and the director has made wise use of their intimacy. Interspersed with the narrative are clips from home movies made during Mizrahi’s boyhood, anecdotes from his mom and shots from favorite movies and TV shows. Mizrahi adores Mary Tyler Moore, and when the new collection is a hit, he throws his hat in the air just the way Mary Richards does in the MTM credits. This is the first time out for Keeve as director, and he does a poised job of presenting a warts-and-all portrait–Mizrahi the show-off, proud of every clever phrase he coins, and Mizrahi the serious craftsman, determined to build on his considerable gifts. Show-off and craftsman have one thing in common: they’re both catnip to the camera. Unzipped could be the genesis of a second line for Mizrahi.

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