THE CAMERA focuses in on a curly-haired man, lying in bed, sketching and nattering to himself about designs for women's clothes. Isaac Mizrahi is watching an old movie, "Nanook of the North." He is thinking about fur, talking about fur - and pulling on his own bushy head at the same time.
"All I want to do is fur pants, but I know if I do I'll get stoned on Seventh Avenue," he says. "It's about women not wanting to look like cows I guess. You know, in fact cows are quite charming. . . ."Actually there was one thing I wanted do which was a fur jumpsuit. I would love to have one of those in beast, let's say in beast fur. . . .
"You would just put this giant fur jumpsuit on . . . with, you know, a hood . . . and you're out walking the dog and looking amazing and surprising everyone in your neighborhood, which in this case is the Upper East Side. Or Alaska."
Isaac Mizrahi is talented. If he weren't a talented designer, no one would have bothered to film him as he designed his fall '94 line, and he wouldn't be coming to Salt Lake City for a showing of the film and to display some of his clothes at a gala fund-raiser for the Utah AIDS Foundation.
His talent is recognized. After his first runway show, the Metropolitan Museum of Art began collecting his designs, which, even though Mizrahi was only 27 at the time, put him in the category of Yves Saint Laurent. The Council of Fashion Designers of America named him the best young designer of the year in 1989. Twice since then he has won the CFDA Designer of the Year Award.
But in the fashion world, maybe in the world in general, being a talented artist isn't enough. You have to have a serious business sense. And it helps to be flamboyantly self-promoting.
As for running a business, Mizrahi does it. He takes his craft and his business seriously - though he always says understanding money is difficult. The flamboyant, theatrical part comes easily. "Fashion is Entertainment," he told People magazine, cautioning the reporter to be sure to capitalize the E.
In the often-pretentious world of high fashion, Isaac Mizrahi is easy to take. He has a sense of perspective, and more than a touch of self-mockery.
He shows his new line of shoes to a Style magazine reporter and asks, "Do we hate these shoes? Do we love them? I could kill myself they are so beautiful!!"
About one of his earlier spring designs - a chiffon dress worn over a swimsuit - Mizrahi said, "It's so culturally advanced because it's assuming that a woman will go out at night and jump into a pool!"
He tells Vogue magazine, "It's a great historical moment for white."
Here is how he describes his origins in a press release about himself: Isaac Mizrahi was born Oct. 14, 1961, in Brooklyn, N.Y., under the sign of Libra. His father manufactured children's wear and his stylish mother, whom he credits as a major inspiration, wore the designs of Balenciaga and Norell.
As a boy Mizrahi loved acting and piano but his course was firmly set toward fashion. At the age of 13, he began designing clothes for his mother's friends. While attending a Yeshiva for eight years, he would often be reprimanded for drawing fashion sketches in Bibles.
What he doesn't tell you in his press release, but what he's told dozens of magazine reporters, so it's surely no secret, is that he was a fat little boy who felt outside the mainstream because of his weight. He was a boy who grew into a man who still likes the colors of candy better than the black clothes that so many designers favored for so many years.
Mizrahi is a second-generation American. When his meteoric rise to fame was not followed by bankruptcy - as was the case with more than one Young Designer of the Year - at least one biographer credited his no-nonsense upbringing. "He, his business partner and his financial backers all come from a close-knit clan of Syrian Sephardic Jews who settled in Brooklyn and have spent the summers together on the Jersey shore for two generations. This (business) is a family affair, not some fantasy spun out of P.R. ether and the ambitions of fashion editors."
Mizrahi is often heralded as a classic American designer, an individualist. If you can call someone who designs in orange and blue fur a minimalist, Mizrahi is that, too.
In 1991, he told Women's Wear Daily why he was sick of bracelets, why he feels it is un-American to have accessories be more important than clothes. "Europeans - they live in an ancient culture. They can rightfully decorate things. They come from a long line of decorators. They went to school for that. I didn't. I went to school to learn how to create purity."
At 14 he began attending the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, while taking night classes at Parson's School of Design. He fell in love with dance and acting and had a bit part in the movie "Fame" before he graduated from high school and began at Parson's full time.
Mizrahi still loves the ballet and designs for it, and borrows freely from its fantasy in his designs. He still loves acting - he recently played a fashion designer in a Michael J. Fox comedy. His clothes have often been described as a blend of theater and fashion.
Earlier this summer, Mizrahi did a huge fashion benefit for AIDS in Los Angeles. He is scheduled to do something similar in Chicago and New York. His assistant, Nina Santisi, says he included the relatively small town of Salt Lake City on his benefit list because Sharon and Bill Loya (owners of Bill Loya's clothing store) and their Utah customers have always been great supporters. "It's nice to have that kind of following."
As for the future, Santisi talks about the new shoe line, a line of handbags just coming on the market and next year, she says, Mizrahi hopes to launch a line of less-expensive designer fashions.
People magazine once asked Isaac Mizrahi if he ever felt guilty that his life is devoted to clothes when the world is falling apart. He said, "Absolutely. But if I tried to become a social worker, that would be a disaster! So I agree that fashion might seem like a frivolous endeavor these days, but you know what? It's what I'm good at! . . .
"Yes, it's a terrible time: there's AIDS, there's millions of different civil wars, there's the bad economy . . . so do I just abandon all my creative instincts and go join the Peace Corps? I would be terrible at it. I can't stand the sight of blood."
Film and fashion
Bill Loya and Elle magazine are presenting Isaac Mizrahi in an evening of film and fashion to benefit the Utah AIDS Foundation. The party is on Saturday, Sept. 10, at Abravanel Hall, with reception, buffet dinner, music by Orchestra Pachenga, preview of a film about Mizrahi and mannequin modeling of his fall collection. Tickets are $75. Call 582-8811 for reservations.