Talking Shop With Isaac Mizrahi

Designer Isaac Mizrahi talks QVC, cheesecake, fashion and his greater aspirations for the Mizrahi brand.

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From the QVC angle, product may be king, but it will face a shaky reign without the force of personality. “We’re enamored by Isaac’s body of work and also his energy,” says Doug Howe, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of QVC. “You have to have an obviously compelling product offering. Then, it is absolutely critical to have somebody who’s very engaging and very entertaining to educate and talk to the customer with regard to the product. He will be amazing.”

Though numerous fashion personalities, including Bob Mackie, Marc Bouwer, Vivienne Tam, Erin Fetherston, Rachel Zoe and Lori Goldstein, have preceded Mizrahi into the QVC fold, his lineup is by far the most ambitious, the first time in the company’s 23 years that a designer has been positioned across so many of the network’s categories.

To that end, Mizrahi may be uniquely qualified among the major names in fashion to hook up with QVC as a springboard for his lifestyle aspirations. He was a trailblazer in both the fashion-entertainment fusion (“Unzipped,” among his various television pursuits) and, via Target, in the formerly taboo counterpoint of high and low. “I think I had the first [such] fashion show in the world,” he says. “I said that once — high-low — in an interview, and there was a snarky backlash. But maybe we weren’t the first; maybe it was in the background of things.”

Now, Mizrahi can’t wait to hit the studio — or studios, as some segments will air from his own headquarters, and some from QVC’s — and take his mass message directly to consumers. Which raises the issue of his much-hyped deal to design the Liz Claiborne New York collection, the distribution of which is being pulled from stores, other than Claiborne outlet stores, and will follow Mizrahi’s own label to QVC. He maintains there’s no conflict, while acknowledging that making a clear distinction between the two lines might take some time. “I don’t want to say that the Liz line is older, or more for working women, because that’s not the case,” he says. As for that collection’s exit from traditional retail, the designer declines to discuss it except to note that where his work was presented as a concept, it did well. “I’m a gentleman,” he says. “I don’t want to point fingers.”

Mizrahi does stress that, as excited as he is about QVC, which also has an Internet sales component, he believes firmly in the great names of traditional retail. “The words ‘Neiman Marcus,’ the word ‘Macy’s,’ the word ‘Saks,’ the word ‘Bergdorf,’ those are meaningful words,” he says. “They are meaningful ideas, meaningful brands. Those have tons of amazing, monstrous history. They will find a way into the future, they will. Because of those words, their monstrous brand power.”

Which is not to say that he thinks the major retailers, or any other aspect of fashion, can continue unchanged. “There are always going to be people who have new ideas, who are controversial, and they’re always going to spur some kind of fashion reality,” Mizrahi says. “You will always notice people looking a certain way, because that is the zeitgeist, and everyone wants to look that way one day. That’s what fashion is. This is exactly what fashion does all the time. All it does is reinvent itself. Fashion without reinvention doesn’t exist.”


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