I have, like, a thing about sleeping. I don't sleep that much, and I've come to this thing about, like, not sleeping much as being a great virtue, after years of kind of battling it as being a terrible detriment or something. And now I really like sort of sitting up. You know, but for years, I've been sitting up, and I think my creativity is greatly motivated by this kind of insomnia. I lie awake. I think thoughts. I walk aimlessly sometimes. I used to walk more at night. I walk during the day, and I follow people who I think look interesting.
And sometimes — actually, once it was on "Page Six" in the "Post" that I was cruising this guy, like, sort of, whatever, but I was actually just following because he had these great shoes on —
so I was following this guy. And I took a picture of his shoes, and we thanked each other and just went on our way. But I do that all the time. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of my design ideas come from mistakes and tricks of the eye. Because I feel like, you know, there are so many images out there, so many clothes out there. And the only ones that look interesting to me are the ones that look slightly mistaken, of course, or very, very surprising. And often, I'm driving in a taxi, and I see a hole in a shirt or something that looks very interesting or pretty or functional in some way that I'd never seen happen before. And so I'd make the car stop, and I'd get out of the car and walk and see that, in fact, there wasn't a hole, but it was a trick of my eye; it was a shadow, you know. Or if there was a hole, I'd think like, "Oh, damn. Actually, someone thought of that thought already. Someone made that mistake already, so I can't do it anymore."
I don't know where inspiration comes from. It does not come, for me, from research. I don't get necessarily inspired by research. As a matter of fact, one of the most fun things I've ever done in my whole life was this Christmas season at the Guggenheim in New York. I read "Peter and the Wolf" with this beautiful band from Juilliard, and I did, like, you know, the narrator, and I read it. And I saw this really smart critic who I love, this woman Joan Acocella, who's a friend of mine. And she came backstage and said, "Oh, Isaac, did you know that — talk to me about Stalinism and talk to me about, you know, like, the '30s in Russia." And I thought, "How do I know about Stalinism?" I know about a wolf and a bird, and, you know, he ate the bird, and then in the end, you know, you hear the bird squeaking or something.
So I don't really know that, I don't really — actually, I do my own kind of research, you know? If I'm commissioned to do the costumes for an 18th-century opera or something like that, I will do a lot of research, because it's interesting, not because it's what I'm supposed to do. I'm very, very, very inspired by movies. The color of movies and the way light makes the colors. Light from behind the projection or light from the projection makes the colors look so impossible. Anyway, roll this little clip. I'll just show you. I sit up at night, and I watch movies, and I watch women in movies a lot. And I think about, you know, their roles and about how you have to, like, watch what your daughters look at. Because I look at the way women are portrayed all the time, whether they're kind of glorified in this way, or whether they're kind of, you know, ironically glorified, or whether they're sort of denigrated or ironically denigrated.
I go back to color all the time. Color is something that motivates me a lot. It's rarely color that I find in nature, although, you know, juxtaposed next to artificial color, natural color is so beautiful. So that's what I do. I study color a lot. But for the most part, I think, like, how can I ever make anything that is as beautiful as that image of Natalie Wood? How can I ever make anything as beautiful as Greta Garbo? I mean, that's just not possible. You know? And so that's what makes me lie awake at night, I guess. I'm also like a big — I go to astrologers and tarot card readers often, and that's another thing that motivates me a lot. People say, "Do that" — an astrologer tells me to do something, so I do it.
When I was about 21, an astrologer told me that I was going to meet the man of my dreams, and that his name was going to be Eric, right? So, you know, for years I would go to bars and, sort of, anyone I met whose name was Eric, I was humping immediately or something.
There were times when I was so desperate, I would just walk into a room and go, "Eric?" And anybody who would turn around, I would make a beeline for.
And I had this really interesting tarot reading a long time ago. The last card he pulled, which was representing my destiny, was this guy in, like, a straw boater with a cane and, you know, sort of spats and this, you know, a minstrel singer, right? I want to show you this clip, because I do this kind of crazy thing where I do a cabaret act. So actually, check this out. Very embarrassing.
Thank you. We'll do anything you ask.
The name of the show is based on this story that I have to tell you, about my mother. It's sort of an excerpt from a quote of hers. I was dating this guy, right? And this has to do with being happy, I swear. I was dating this guy, and it was going on for about a year, and we were getting serious, so we decided to invite them all to dinner, our parents. We introduced them to each other. My mother was, sort of, very sensitive to his mother, who, it seemed, was a little bit skeptical about the whole "alternative lifestyle" thing — you know, homosexuality. So my mother was a little offended, and turned to her and said, "Are you kidding? They have the greatest life together. They eat out, they see shows ..." They eat out, they see shows.
That's the name of the show, "They eat out, they —" That's on my tombstone when I die: "He ate out, he saw shows." Right?
So in editing these clips, I didn't have the audacity to edit a clip of me singing at Joe's Pub. So you'll have to go check it out and come see me or something, because it's mortifying. And yet, it feels — I don't know how to put this. I feel as little comfort as possible is a good thing. You know? And at least, you know, in my case, because if I just do one thing all the time, I don't know, I get very, very bored. I bore very easily. And you know, I don't say that I do everything well. I just say that I do a lot of things, that's all. And I kind of try not to look back, you know? Except, I guess that's what staying up every night is about — like, looking back and thinking, "What a fool you made of yourself." You know? But I guess that's OK. Right?
Because if you do many things, you get to feel lousy about everything, and not just one, you know? You don't master feeling lousy about one thing. Yeah, exactly.
I will show you this next thing, speaking of costumes for operas. I do work with different choreographers. I work with Twyla Tharp a lot and I work with Mark Morris a lot, who is one of my best friends. And I designed three operas with him — the most recent one, "King Arthur." I've been very ingrained in the dance world since I was a teenager. I went to a performing arts high school, where I was an actor, and many of my friends were ballet dancers. Again, I don't know where inspiration comes from. I don't know where it comes from. I started making puppets when I was a kid. Maybe that's where the whole inspiration thing started from: puppets.
And then performing arts high school. There I was in high school, meeting dancers and acting.
And somehow, from there, I got interested in design. I went to Parsons School of Design, and then I began my career as a designer. I don't really think of myself as a designer, and I don't really think of myself necessarily as a fashion designer. And frankly, I don't really know what to call myself. I think of myself as ... I don't know what I think of myself as, so ... That's just that.
But I must say, this whole thing about being slightly bored all the time, I think that is a very important thing for a fashion designer. You always have to be, like, slightly bored with everything. And if you're not, you have to pretend to be slightly bored with everything. (Laughter)
But I am really a little bored with everything. I always say to my partner, Marisa Gardini, who books everything — books everything and makes everything happen and makes all the deals. And I always tell her that I find myself with a lot of time on the computer bridge program. Too much time on computer bridge, which is, you know, like, that's — So, somehow, like, about 10 years ago, I thought that the most unboring place in the world would be, like, a TV studio, like for a day show, some kind of day talk show, because it's all of these things that I love kind of in one place. And if you ever get bored, you can look at another thing and do another thing and talk about it, right?
And so I had this TV show. And that was a very, very, very big part of my process. Actually, could you roll the clip, please? This is one of my favorite clips of Rosie O'Donnell.
(Video) Isaac Mizrahi: We're back on the set. Hi, Ben!
Rosie O'Donnell: Hello, Ben.
IM: Look how cute she looks with just a slick back.
Ben: As my grandmother says, "Delish!"
IM: Wow, delish. All right. So where should I position myself? I want to stay out of the way. I don't want to be — OK, here we go.
RO: Do you get nervous, Ashley?
Ashley: Doing what? RO: Cutting hair.
A: Never. I don't think there was ever a day when I cut hair I was nervous.
IM: You look so cute already. RO: You like it? All right.
IM: Do you have a problem looking cute? RO: Of course I want to look cute.
IM: Just checking, because some people want to look, you know, aggressively ugly.
RO: No, not me, no.
IM: You read about people who have a lot of money and they have kids and the kids always end up somehow, really messed up, you know? And there's got to be some way to do that, Rosie. Just because you're fabulously rich and fabulously famous, does that mean you shouldn't have kids, because you know they're going to end up messed up?
RO: No, but it means your priority has to be their well-being first, I think. But you have to make the decision for yourself. My kids are seven, who the hell knows? They're going to be like 14 and in rehab. And they're going to be playing this clip. "I'm such a good mother." My God, this is the shortest I've ever had!
IM: It looks good, yeah?
A: Has your hair ever been this short? RO: No! But it's all right — go crazy.
IM: I feel like it needs to be closer down here.
A: It's just a stage. RO: We're just staging it.
IM: Are you freaking out? It's so cute.
RO: No, I love it. It's the new me. IM: It's so fabulous!
RO: Flock of Rosie. Wooo!
IM: By the way, of all the most unboring things in the world, right? I mean, like, making someone who's already cute look terrible like that —
That is not boring. That is nothing if it's not boring.
Actually, I read this great quote the other day, which was, "Style makes you feel great, because it takes your mind off the fact that you're going to die." Right?
And then I realized that was on my website, and it said, you know, the quote was attributed to me. And I thought, "Oh, I said something in an interview. I forgot I said that." But it's really true.
I want to show you this last clip because it's going to be my last goodbye. I'll tell you that I cook a lot also. I love to cook. And I often look at things as though they're food. Like, I say, "Would you serve a rotten chicken? Then how could you serve a beat-up old dress or something? How could you show a beat-up old dress?" I always relate things to kitchen-ry.
And so I think that's what it all boils down to. Everything boils down to that.
So check this out. This is what I've been doing, because I think it's the most fun thing in the world. It's, like, this website with a lot of different things on it. It's a polymathematical website. We actually shoot segments, like TV show segments. And it's kind of my favorite thing in the world. And it just began, like, in the beginning of February. So who knows? Again, I don't say it's good, I just think it's not boring, right? And here's the last bit.
IM: I make buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk waffles all the time.
Sara Moulton: Do you?
IM: Yeah, but I can never find buttermilk, ever.
You can't find it at Citarella, you can't find it.
SM: You can't? IM: It's always low-fat.
SM: But that's all it is. IM: It is? OK.
SM: You don't know? Let me tell you something interesting.
IM: You know what? Stop laughing! It's not funny. Just because I don't know there's no such thing as whole buttermilk. Sorry. What?
SM: Here's the deal: in the old days, when they used to make butter — You know how you make butter?
IM: Churn. SM: From cream.
IM: Yeah, exactly.
SM: So you take heavy, high-fat milk, which is cream, and you churn it until it separates into these curds and water. The liquid is actually — if you've ever overbeaten your whipped cream, it's actually buttermilk. That's what it was in the early days. And that's what people used for baking and all sorts of things. Now the buttermilk that you get is actually low-fat or skim milk.
IM: Excuse me, I didn't know. Alright?
SM: The reason he thought that is because buttermilk is so wonderfully thick and delicious.
IM: Yeah, it is. Exactly.
SM: So who would think that it was low-fat?
IM: Well, that's it. Thank you very much. Happy TED. It's so wonderful here. I love it. I love it. I love it.