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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Mizrahi has designs on televised conversation

By Frazier Moore
Associated Press

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi decided to freshen up the TV talk show scene last year.

Associated Press

'The Isaac Mizrahi Show'
• 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
• Oxygen

NEW YORK — "I'm such a bundle of ambivalence," says Isaac Mizrahi, looking perplexed.

"That's my problem. Or," he adds helplessly, "my virtue."

Either way, at 41, he's still deciding what to do when he grows up.

Already, he's been a fashion designer with his own celebrated line. He was the subject of the 1995 documentary "Unzipped." He starred in a one-man off-Broadway show called "LES MIZrahi." He even served as a residential makeover artist, helping retrofit a prewar Manhattan apartment house with luxury pieds-a-terres.

Then, last year, Mizrahi decided to freshen up the TV talk show scene. "The Isaac Mizrahi Show," showing at various times weekly on cable's Oxygen network (check daily listings), is in its second season, and by now, the method to Mizrahi's many-splendored madness comes clear: He does what he likes.

Originating both from within and beyond his gallery-like studio ("a big white box," he explains, "like a blank page"), the show often finds the host sharing a fun activity with his celebrity guest while they chat.

On future segments, he grooms his dog Harry with Natalie Portman, designs a cocktail dress for Selma Blair, works out with John Leguizamo, goes thrift-shopping with Kristin Davis and bowls with Juliette Lewis.

Think of each encounter as a talk-show play date, not only amusing to watch, but also putting the guest at ease. Which facilitates disclosure.

Any subject, large or small, is fair game.

Last week, he welcomed comedian Janeane Garofalo with her two large Labradors, Kid and Dewey. The dogs frolic with Harry while their owners discuss smoking, standup comedy, sex (she swears she never slept with off-and-on friend and collaborator Ben Stiller) and the desperate self-image of so many young women. Along the way, one of Garofalo's dogs interrupts things by urinating on her leg. This is not only a funny moment, but also, by provoking her into an unrehearsed response, as revealing as a talk show is ever likely to get.

Though a darling of Manhattan's arty in-crowd, Mizrahi, whose surname in Hebrew means "man from the East," was raised just east of Manhattan in Brooklyn, in a close-knit community of Syrian Sephardic Jews.

His father, a children's wear manufacturer with whom he had a "distant and complicated" relationship, nonetheless advised 12-year-old Isaac on buying his first sewing machine — and even threw in the extra $40 it cost.

Mizrahi went on to study dance, music and drama at Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts. After graduation, he enrolled at the Parsons School of Design.

Mizrahi is doing the show he set out to do, he says, and having a ball. But he does acknowledge one concern: that, with its all-white studio and voguish guests, "The Isaac Mizrahi Show" might at first glance strike a viewer as all too cool.

"Uh-uh!" he insists, drawing a sharp distinction between cool-as-pretentious and cool-as-smart. "Besides, I think there's always something about my show that brings it right back down to an uncool level."

Namely him. In many ways, he is still that kid from Brooklyn: curious, creative, playful.

"I like really simple, basic things," Mizrahi says. "I'm really an earnest guy. I can't lie. I don't drink. Ice cream is my favorite thing in the world. I feel like that's what my show is about."

Maybe not such a bundle of ambivalence after all.