Backstory: Born to Syrian Jewish parents and raised on Ocean Parkway in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, Mizrahi wasn't anything like the other boys at the Yeshiva of Flatbush: He was 10 when his garmento father finally gave him the sewing machine he desperately wanted, and he was 15 when he launched his own label, IS New York, with help from one of his mother's friends. Not surprisingly, Mizrahi's interests didn't impress the Orthodox rabbis at his school. But he found more acceptance when he switched to the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, where he pursued his passion for theater and even had a tiny part in the movie Fame. Parsons was the next stop and he started interning for Perry Ellis as a junior, going to work for the designer full-time after graduating.
Following Ellis's passing, Mizrahi took jobs at Jeffrey Banks and Calvin Klein, leaving the latter in the mid-1980s shortly after Grace Coddington's arrival as creative director. With financing from family friends, he launched his own label in 1987 and quickly became one of the brightest talents on the fashion scene, earning acclaim for his sophisticated 1950s-inspired cocktail dresses. Just a year after going into business, he won the CFDA award for emerging talent, and the following year he walked away with the womenswear trophy.
With his name on the lips of every fashionista in town, many assumed he'd follow in the footsteps of Donna, Calvin and Ralph as one of America's most successful designers. But over the next few years Mizrahi had a difficult time capitalizing on the early acclaim. After failing to turn a profit-and after the failure of his diffusion line, Isaac, in 1998 his financial backer, Chanel, backed out and his company went under. But he's managed to remain in the public eye thanks to various TV-related projects.
Of note: While the implosion of his eponymous company was a big blow to Mizrahi, he didn't spend much time sitting around weeping over his losses. He's been a tornado of activity in recent years, in fact. In 2000, he starred in an off-Broadway, one-man show, Les MIZrahi. In 2003, he returned to fashion in a big way when he relaunched his label and unveiled a line of women's sportswear and accessories for Target. The line proved a major success for the retailer, and it also helped pave the way for collaborations between Target and a slew of designers like Mizrahi protegée Behnaz Sarafpour, and Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler.
In January 2008 Mizrahi defected from Target—much to the chain's dismay—to join Liz Claiborne as creative director. His tenure there was plagued by problems, however, and he left the company after a year. He has several other projects to occupy his time, though. In 2010, he unveiled a line for QVC. (The shopping channel set up a lavish studio for him in New York City.) And he continues to design costumes for film, dance and theater companies such as the Met and Threepenny Opera.
On screen: Mizrahi was the subject of the 1995 documentary Unzipped, directed by his then-boyfriend Douglas Keeve, which remains one of the best films about the fashion world. (It featured memorably amusing scenes with his mom, Sarah Mizrahi.) The designer became a presence on the small screen for the first time when The Isaac Mizrahi Show debuted on Oxygen in 2001 before later moving to the Style Network. But he's popped up in plenty of other places: He had cameos as an alien in Men in Black and appeared as himself in episodes of Sex and the City and Ugly Betty. And he raised a few eyebrows as a red carpet reporter for E! at the 2006 Golden Globes when he copped a feel of Scarlett Johansson's boob.
Shill: In addition to his recent home shopping gig, Mizrahi has appeared in ads for Strivectin anti-wrinkle cream. He's also promoted Weight Watchers, which he credits with losing the poundage he put on when he quit smoking.
Personal: The bandana-and-flip-flop-wearing fashion impresario lives in the Village with his boyfriend Arnold and his dog Harry. Marisa Tomei lives in the same building.
No joke: In the late '90s, Mizrahi published a graphic novel called Sandee, the Adventures of a Supermodel, which Dreamworks had once planned to turn into a move. (The project was abandoned.) In the book, the supermodel's partner-in-crime is Yvesaac Mizrahi, "an alter ego whose only difference from his creator is about 30 pounds and a carefully chiseled chin." Yvesaac is the nickname that Perry Ellis bestowed upon him, in honor of Yves Saint Laurent.
Date of Birth: 10/14/1961
Place of Birth: Brooklyn, NY
High School: High School of Music and Art
Residence(s): New York, NY (Greenwich Village); Bridgehampton, NY
[Photos via Getty Images]