July 9, 2018

Isaac’s New Act

Always the wittiest designer on Seventh Avenue, Isaac Mizrahi is now channeling his inner Elaine Stritch with a new “alt-cabaret” show at Bay Street Theater, while maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Isaac Mizrahi’s wellness secrets: yoga, swimming and puppy love. Photograph by Jason Frank Rothenberg

by Ray Rogers

RAY ROGERS: Your new show is called Moderate to Severe—is that a reference to life in the Trump era?

ISAAC MIZRAHI: My first show, Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?, happened right after Trump was elected. Now we’re way into his presidency and it’s gone from moderately insane to severely insane. You have to discuss it with a great deal of humor or you’ll lose your mind.

RR: Speaking of that last show, how has being surrounded by models for so many years affected your view of wellness?

IM: A big part of the show was talking about my body dysmorphia, which is no longer body dysmorphia because now I’m just fat! But even when I was underweight and had a bit of an eating disorder in my 30s, I felt like the biggest person in the room, because I was always surrounded by models. Now I don’t care what I look like as long as I feel well.

RR: What advice would you give your younger self?

IM: Have nude photographs taken! Because no one would ever believe how cute my body was when I was young. I have one Polaroid somewhere I’m going to dig up.

RR: What’s your wellness regimen?

IM: I do yoga—I love it so much. And I’ve been swimming since I was 20 years old. Any time I tell my doctor or chiropractor I swim, they are so happy because they all say it’s literally the best thing I could do.

RR: What do you love about your life in Bridgehampton?

IM: The beach. Even on a not-so-beautiful day, a good walk on the beach is just everything. Also the ions from the sea are fantastic because they bring on sleep. I sleep a lot better in the Hamptons than in the city.

RR: What’s your favorite way to get out of a bad mood?

IM: Unfortunately, to eat. You can’t be sad when you’re eating mint chocolate chip ice cream.

RR: Do you have a favorite quote or motto?

IM: Ingrid Bergman said the secret to a happy life is “good digestion and a bad memory.” I’ve amended that to, “good digestion, a bad memory and realistic expectations.” You’ll have a better life if you let yourself enjoy the things that you’re accomplishing instead of constantly comparing them to what you could be achieving. Especially if you digest your food and can’t remember anything.

RR: In Unzipped you said that “everything is frustrating except for designing clothes. That’s liberating and beautiful.” In what way is performance also liberating for you?

IM: I work more as a designer in a different capacity now; it’s very logical and I make these clothes that are wonderful and a great value. It’s a cashmere sweater at a really good price, and I go on the air at QVC and sell them. So now the artist in me is living for the performance thing. There’s something so incredibly liberating about it. I have such stage fright and it’s so debilitating beforehand, but then the minute you make it on stage it becomes this crazy kind of opening up. No matter how times I do it or how much applause I’m greeted by, it’s still not easy. It’s still this kind of crazy fear. Overcoming that every night is really great.

RR: What’s most important to you these days?

IM: My dogs. I know that’s a really dumb answer, but when I’m not with them they’re all I think about, and when I’m with them I’m very very happy.

RR: Who would play you in your film biography?

IM: Oh gosh, it would have to be someone gorgeous, obviously. Just kidding. Maybe Glenda Jackson. Someone who could definitely plumb the depths.

Isaac Mizrahi performs at Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, on August 6 at 8PM; baystreet.org.