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Isaac's Stylebook

February 23rd, 2007 by tatterdemalion

When I first read about Isaac Mizrahi’s Style Book magazine, I was doubtful that I would find it the slightest bit interesting. I’m not exactly a “style” kind of person–I don’t follow fads or fashion, don’t have money, and don’t care. I figured it would be another magazine telling you how to spend a lot of money so you can have the perfect life as they envision it, which is usually a lot differently than I envision it. You know how it goes: these are these are the brands to buy, this is how you should look, this is the celebrity that’s in, etc., etc. And, of course, all throughout, it would be riddled with ads and placements for “Isaac” products. And so I took the introduction with a biiiiig grain of salt. Talk is cheap, don’t cha know.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s not totally relevant to sewing, because by “style” they do mean “life style”, not just clothing related. But it was much more honest and undirected than I had ever expected to see. One article touts a certain brandname of jean, and a following article denounces it. The people writing the articles had different opinions, and the “right” brand was not dictated by the editors.

The food article discusses making fresh fish soup in graphic detail, right down to goring the milky dead eyes out of the stinking carcasses with a paring knife. Even here, where the cooking lesson is being taught, there is no snobbery, no “this soup must be made with only these ingredients, or it is no soup worth having”. Instead, it says “bouillabaisse was never about exotic ingredients,” and even goes so far as to say “. . . langoustines, while tasty, are unnecessary and expensive, and price should be a guide.” This is thouroughly encouraging. True, I could care less about floating in mineral water or Peru beaches, but knowing that I would not be reading glossed over endorsements made it more fun to read. The honest truth is often very hard to find.

Not only is there an emphasis in not glossing things over, but there is an emphasis on diversity of opinions and tastes. For their “Swatches” feature, they picked a color and had various people choose objects of that color, and give their comments on it. They picked pink, which they said was their favorite color. Pink ranks rather low on my list of favorite colors. But the different views on pink were fascinating. My favorites of their picks were:

  • The design of the Pauline Trigere dress. Though I really don’t like bubble skirts, I loved the attached cape.
  • The practicality of the baker, Sylvia Weinstock–“We will do anything within reason that the bride wants, even candy flowers. Pink is a very popular color. It’s a very flattering color. I prefer peach, but most people prefer pink. For pink cakes we use food coloring, of course, but it’s bitter in taste and must be kept to a pale tone—if you’re eating it, that is. The more color you use, the more it comes off on your mouth and teeth. That’s why there are no royal blue cakes.” You really have to appreciate the gaurded “within reason”, and the rather dry, “That’s why there are no royal blue cakes”.
  • The whimsy of the carpet. “In the middle of this misty green, green land, I walked into the Newport House for a tea and a scone and saw a fruit salad of colors. The most luscious of all was the pink rug. Who would imagine such a thing in Ireland? —Maira Kalman, illustrator and author, New York I think it’s that last line there that makes me smile. I mean really, in Ireland? How absurd! Absurd things always make me smile.

There was more than a few smiles in this magazine for me, and even a few laughs. The cooking article was definetly a favorite of mine, simply for the tone and experiences shared in it.

Confession: Husband and wife have different taste. I like a bit of flash, while Justin prefers minimalism. As a compromise we usually end up somewhere in Denmark

But of course. Where else? (Perhaps I just find geography funny. . .) They were open and honest about their ignorance (mine, too, thank you very much). . .

We love cheese, but we knew very little about it. Thank goodness for Liz Thorpe, the cheese guru at Murray’s. Liz was no snooty fussbudget;

. . .and their own, un snooty-fussbudget tastes.

The blue was heaven on earth. To Justin, it was the equivalent of frat-boy hazing of the eat-my-shorts variety. Whatever—that just meant more for me.

And the article really was educational, too. My favorite new fact, being a cheese-lover myself, was Justin’s suggestion of a diet.

Furthermore, she said, cheese has every vitamin and mineral except vitamin C. “So you could just eat cheese and drink OJ and be healthy?” Justin asked. “That’s a plan,” she said.

And I had to flat out laugh, when the professional chef giving the soup lesson gave his time estimate.

“This took me, what, an hour and a half from stock to eating?” he said. “I promise you, it will take you at least four hours.” Little did he know the harsh reality that was to come in my kitchen, which is roughly the same size as his stovetop.

As near as I can piece out from the article, it took her and her husband around 12 hours, and I can’t say that I blame them.

But, by far, my favorite article was the one written by the guy who hand-sewed a pair of jeans. We would have to do DNA testing to see if we were genetically related, but I’m guessing there’s probably a pretty high posibility. Even if you aren’t one of those rare people who would not only have such an absurd idea as to stitch, by hand, a pair of jeans complete with belt loops and flat-felled seams, but also to carry through with said absurd idea–well, you’d still enjoy the article. He begins by explaining his reason for embarking on the project.

My mother—perhaps the most polymathically capable person I have ever known—made all her own clothes while she was in medical school. I, in turn, strive daily to be a desirable addition to any bomb shelter. I cut my own hair; I can make a fire with sticks. I’d gladly skip out on calf- birthing lessons, but I would like to know how to make my own clothes. . .Seeing as how I have no facility for machines (all my skills are low-tech; I can silver-leaf a table [oo, now I want to learn how to silver-leaf a table.–T], but I can’t figure out the speed dial on my phone), I decided that I would make my pants employing nothing more than needle, scissors, pins, and thread. I am the most innocuous Ted Kaczynski alive, my anti-industrial posture resulting not in domestic terrorism, but rather in an inadvertent hewing to the strictest codes of couture. Oddly enough, setting up my atelier of one also meant I would be an unwitting and reluctant participant in the current mania for premium and customized denim, a craze in which I cannot feign interest. Trends by their nature evoke suspicion in me, but jeans that cost hundreds of dollars per pair and have ironically egalitarian names like Seven for All Mankind and Citizens for Humanity seem worse than merely faddish. They strike me as obnoxious bordering on hateful. I am not the market, I know, given my general indifference. . .

I can’t tell you how eery it was to read the article, as we approach things in almost the exact same manner–listing out the reasonable steps, and ending with a clueless how-hard-could-it-be?, followed immediately after by finding out exactly how hard it can be. When confronted with the enormity of the task, we both first switch to self delusion—We’ll take short-cuts. Next, as though we share the same schedule, we turn to obsession and pig-headeadness, which is usually pretty effective for making up for lack of knowledge or experience. It also utterly does away with our planned short-cuts, and causes us to go back and rip out already completed work, just to make it look a little better. We refuse to rest until we have every tiny detail in place. He ends by saying,

. . .they look no different from actual jeans, save for a lack of rivets. Actually, that’s not true. They do look different. The evidence of the hand is everywhere—the lines of stitches that here and there meander ever so subtly from their course, like the most peaceful of rivers; the “red tab” fashioned from a piece of grosgrain ribbon salvaged from a long-forgotten gift—but is undetectable even from a distance of two feet away. They are like a photograph that, upon closer examination, turns out to be a cunning picture made out of butterfly wings or dried beans. I find them unutterably cool, almost precisely for how quiet they are.

Me, too.

In every way. To me, one of the greatest pinnacles of clothing design is clothes that look perfectly typical upon first glance, and become more and more fascinating the longer you study them. I love quiet clothing. And I love “the evidence of the hand”, in everything.

The advertising in the magazine is also very quiet, but no less effective. There are no ads. There are no “you can buy it here”, there are no “new this season!”. There is simply the name, Isaac Mizrahi, on the front cover, and any time there is a refrence to the magazine staff. You read an article, enjoy it, and associate that enjoyment with “Isaac Mizrahi”. Very insidious, and very effective. I went from barely recognizing his name and not caring one whit what he was up to, to having my ears perk up every time I head his name mentioned, and wondering what his clothing looked like.

Oh, and there were pictures of his work, but not like what you would expect. They were very atmospheric, very engaging of the imagination:

People working–a flurry of hands and pins and tape measures.

A table with brightly colored fabric layed out on it; behind it, a rack of clothing, the garments carefully protected with plastic. Daylight is pouring through the streaked windows, but you can only see a rather depressed looking brown building through them. The steam raditor and the antique chairs give it an old, other-worldy sort of feel, but the bar-code sticker on the shipping box under the table gives it away.

Shoes and feet, and floors—old floors, wooden floors, the wide boards both painted and worn.

Open jackets that have been set aside, the sunlight playing off their satiny interiors.

People tying ties, cutting fabric.

You can see people talking with their hands—thinking, considering, explaining—that way that people hold their hands when they see something in their mind and they’re trying to show it to you.

Sometimes you see several sets of hands easing sleeves onto garments that are already being worn by models.

And the models—they’re alive! Some are dressed in nothing but muslin toiles, some are still pulling sweaters over their head, but they have expression. They are preplexed; tired, amused, and above all, watchful—watching the multitudes of hands moving about them, watching the fabric take shape over them. In most pictures, they seem to be complacent in the midst of the whirlwind around them, but my favorite picture is one of several women off in a corner. They’ve all been dressed up; it must be between shoots. But they’re talking, they’re expressive, they’re alive, and the dresses look better there than any other picture (even the offical collection pictures on Isaac Mizrahi website).

I just love pictures where you can swear you can hear as well as see—hear the hustle, hear the questioning tones, hear the laughter, hear the life.

I was sorry when the magazine ended.

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