I.M.: A Memoir
Isaac Mizrahi “seems to be living his best life,” said Laird Borrelli in Vogue.com. Ever since he emerged as a fashion designer in the late 1980s, the “ebullient” New York City native has never lacked admirers, and he has managed to use his enduring success in that field to become a more freewheeling creative force. Many now know him as a TV personality; here, he’s flexing his talent as a writer. “I.M. is a coming of age/coming out story that will challenge what you think you might know about Mizrahi.” Yes, he’s funny here, but he’s also very good at sharing what it was like to grow up gay in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn and then find huge success by playing a role that didn’t quite fit his sense of self.
“The first half of I.M. is fascinating—maybe even a classic Jewish memoir,” said Adam Kirsch in TabletMag.com. Born in 1961 as the son of a Syrian-American clothing manufacturer, Mizrahi embraced the family trade even as a child, when he sewed together tiny outfits for Barbie dolls. Otherwise, he stuck out in parochial Brooklyn, he writes, “like a chubby gay thumb.” But a guidance counselor at his yeshiva encouraged him to apply to an elite performing arts high school in Manhattan, which opened a new world. After a chance opportunity to make a dress for then–child actress Diane Lane, Mizrahi switched his focus from performance to design. Eventually, I.M. becomes “the story of a fabulous life spent among famous and beautiful people,” but that material, comparatively, is “not very interesting.”
Even so, Mizrahi’s prose perks up “whenever he’s describing the eccentric women who swan in and out of his sartorial orbit,” said Rachel Syme in Bookforum. He’s particularly entertaining describing Liza Minelli, whose need to dance and execute impromptu fan kicks made her a difficult client to measure. Mizrahi is now more celebrity than artist, but in this colorful, “surprisingly literary” memoir, I discovered someone else: “the kind of giddy autodidact who gets into fashion because it is the only medium that can accommodate a thousand ideas at once—in a single garment.” ■