MIzrahi, Merkin and midlife

Looking for learning, or perhaps reassurance, I bought Isaac Mizrahi's book, "How to Have Style".

I wasn't enlightened, but for twenty bucks got a fun, fast read. Everyone looked better in th
e "after" photos, with much improved hair and makeup, but some looked getup-y or awkward. His couture evening gown in lace and taffeta was a standout .

Maybe we're drawn to style books that reflect our own taste, which for me would probably feature makeovers where everyone looked like a member of the Addams Family, but with more jewelry.

In short, Isaac:
- loathes two types of hosiery: nude, and sheer coloured (such as sheer red); he chooses either no hosiery or opaque tights
- adores colour; rarely uses an all-neutral palette
- thinks all women should "love their breasts"
- recommends wearing "two bandannas a day" (is he serious?)
- doesn't like loose or flowing garments, and
- urges us to create an 'image board' of favourite influences and looks to create a style sense.

Some good, but not novel advice:
- Buy dressy clothes when you see something you love, rather than waiting for an invitation
- Splurge on "the most classic item in the world; you will love and cherish it forever"
- When in doubt, wear all black, but vary patterns and textures

The same day, I read Daphne Merkin's wistful piece in The New Your Times' T Magazine,"Belt Tightening" about her mission to buy not 'shapewear', but an old-school girdle, serious weaponry for her middle-aged spread. When she finds it, it's a cruel triumph. It squishes her senseless. Even the multi-paneled corset she eventually buys does not return her to her 20 year old self.

Merkin is 54; Mizrahi is 47. But Mizrahi is of a different generation; he skews far younger, requesting that a 50-ish woman lose weight and expressing reservations about dressing the lone truly zaftig example.

Though there are hints of ageism and sizeism under his bandanna, to his credit he encourages women to reflect on who they are, rather than just dressing them. I found his book mostly an advert for Isaac. He's in so many shots that you wonder who's the subject.

gives the corset to her young daughter (who's thinking bedroom, not breathing room) and buys Eskandar (shown, left), Shirin Guild and Shamask, exactly the luxurious, forgivingly-cut clothes Mizrahi won't go near.

That might have something to do with his recent contract to design for Liz Claiborne, whose target market is twenties to forties. If he's an authority to this group, they may return to a label trying to cast off a rep for dependable but unexciting careerwear.

I'm somewhere in between. Merkin's preferred designers are a touch austere for me (not to mention costly), though I admire them on others. Mizrahi's clothes induce ennui via In Style conformity: pretty, perky, only occasionally chic.

I'd recommend the book to someone who has not been thinking about personal style, or to a young woman building a first wardrobe.


Susan B said…
would probably feature makeovers where everyone looked like a member of the Addams Family, but with more jewelry.
LOL! Substitute scarves for jewelry, and you've probably written my makeover book. ;-)

I just purchased Mizrahi's book, based on Karen't recommendation, and haven't had much of a chance to look through it. I do see he's a big fan of a cinched waist, which often tends to make me look like a stuffed sausage. I do agree with him about buying dressy when you find it, not when you need it, and investing in classic pieces. I love the Eskandar look in concept, but think one needs to be taller and more statuesque to carry it off. I'm off to read the other article you've linked to.
WendyB said…
I (a) want to read your Addams Family style book and (b) hope I NEVER end up wearing depressing-looking Eskandar designs. Ew.
My favorite look in the Isaac book is the gal he puts in the red trench coat. I cannot get that look out of my mind.
Anonymous said…
I love Mizrahi as a personality but have always found his fashion style rather unoriginal. Where he really comes to life is in his designs for the stage. He designed the costumes for a wonderful ballet I saw once by the Mark Morris company - gorgeous velvet swirling kaftans in every colour imaginable - utterly dramatic.

I don't like Eskandar at all. I find his designs too staid and pedestrian. Shirin Guild is a completely different ball game - her clothes are really clever, sensuous and highly original. And guess what, she stands at 5ft 2ins, is no bigger than an XS in size and looks absolutely fabulous in her own clothes!

I would also like to mention that if you hanker after a Shirin Guild sweater, go buy it now as she has recently closed her business. Her beautiful garments are soon to become collectors items.
It was an interesting book, but there was much in there I though was unflattering on the models - and definite no-nos to really flatter their figures. Especially the for the one more womanly woman who I felt most sorry for.

But it is having choice and different opionions that makes for a more interesting life.

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