“I: A Memoir” by Isaac Mizrahi— A Self-Portrait of the Designer

Mizrahi, Isaac. “I: A Memoir”, Flatiron Books, 2019.

A Self- Portrait of the Designer

Amos Lassen

Those of us who were around in the 1980s are aware of Isaac Mizrahi. He was known as a designer, cabaret performer, talk-show host, a TV celebrity. He has also been regarded as closed referring to his personal life. That just changed with the publication of his memoir.

Now he gives us a poignant, candid, and touching look back on his life so far. Mizrahi up gay in a sheltered Syrian Jewish Orthodox family and if you are familiar with a family like this then you are aware of what he had to deal with. He possessed unique talents that ultimately drew him into fashion and later into celebrity circles and he seems to either know or have known every one of the “beautiful people”— Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Wintour, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Meryl Streep, and Oprah Winfrey, to name just a few. 

Mizrahi shares his his lifelong battles with weight, insomnia, and depression and he tells what it was like to be an out gay man in a homophobic age and to witness the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic. His book is filled with intimate details and sharp wit. We read of the glamour of his world and the “ grit beneath the glitz”. We have wonderful stories from in and out of the spotlight as

While Mizrahi is not dressing the A-List crowd as much anymore, he is still involved in the fashion world. He has also found a place in front of the camera on various tv shows. He is still creative and very, very candid.

His childhood growing up as a gay male in a Syrian Jewish family was certainly fascinating but there were parts that dragged a bit for me but that is probably because this is not a new story for men and I have a good many friends who are gay Syrian Jews. His relationship with his parents and his siblings and their families is fascinating and yes, his mother is a Jewish mother. I am very glad that he included the AIDS epidemic in his narrative. As hard as it is to read about it, we cannot let ourselves ever forget how it was. It was a scary and very sad time and we need to keep it alive.

Mizrahi lived through world-struggles and he always felt that he did not really fit in anywhere. He brought  sewing and clothing into his life and used them as coping mechanisms. He wanted to carve out his own life & leave behind the pretenses and strictures of an upbringing in old-school religion. This is not easy and is in fact a process, but no matter how far one goes, it is impossible to fully shake some of the upbringing. Mizrahi says that he is now comfortable with the hardships he has faced and with & sadness he has had to deal. Mizrahi successfully knocked down a wall about how we feel about celebrities and I think that we often forget that they are people just like us.

While this is a book about fashion, it is also about owning who we are and the struggle for self-acceptance. The book addresses the very real internal fight that comes when insisting to the world at large upon ownership of oneself. This is not the hot gossip book that you might have been expecting. It is heartfelt and very introspective. I especially liked the length the book goes to the way people reacted to gay people back then (and it was not so far back). Reading this makes us appreciate where we are today on equal rights.

Not really serving up the scalding hot tea I was hoping for. More heartfelt and introspective. I did appreciate his whole “Kids, in the late 80s, the general population was scared of and mean to gay people” thing. It wasn’t that long ago, Aquaria. 

The second half of the book is full of famous names and brands, which is a large part of the fashion industry, but this section of the book loses the intimacy we had in the first half. the more intimate, deliberate feel of the first half.

Mizrahi wrote in the way that I imagine he speaks to others and I enjoyed that conversational aspect of the memoir. We approach the designer from two different ways—from the career aspect of his life and from the personal, learning about a man who preferred playing with dolls as a young boy and doing female impersonations. He did not like his body or even who he was.

In revealing his upbringing as a Sephardic Jew, whose family was religious, observing traditions regarding foods, and most importantly, being Syrian, we get a different picture of the man we thought we knew.

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