Simply put, he is more than a brand: Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi has claimed his spot as a household name—and like any figure so well-known, his endeavors continue to expand. From home products to edibles, television to film, Mizrahi's name can be found with much more than dresses these days; and now, it will be seen on the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis program for the upcoming production of The Magic Flute, which he directs, in addition to serving as set designer and costume designer.
Mizrahi made his opera directorial debut with the same company's rendition of A Little Night Music in 2010. Now, he is back in the Gateway City to use his legendary charm and talent to bring the 'magic' to this beloved Mozart opera, which runs through June 28.
Before Mizrahi ventured to St. Louis, LN spoke with him about his ideas, his preparation and his expansive career.
What is your vision for the upcoming Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) production of The Magic Flute?
I think of Hollywood and the movies I grew up watching, and I think of this kind of perfect conveyance of fantasy and music. I thought of this place—where like a rock, a tree, a magical bird—anything could appear at any moment. I think of a sound stage, and I kept thinking about that; and the other thing that I kept thinking about was how awful the show is in its approach to the character of the Queen of Night. I always feel she gets the really short end of the stick in this deal. She's merely protective of her daughter, and I thought of this wonderful idea that she 'haunts' the sound stage, like this old film star ghost.
I'm trying, in a way, to rationalize what I think is almost misogyny; it feels a little misogynistic the way women are referred to constantly as silly creatures who can't be trusted. I'm telling it from their perspective. It sounds much more politically charged than it actually is; I just would like it to be less misogynistic.
How does this experience differ from your previous work with OTSL?
In A Little Night Music, it was much more coherent, much more cohesive, it was easy to see the development and go from one thing to the next. This is much more fantastic and funny—and very irreverent.
How do you do your research in preparation for a performance such as this?
With The Magic Flute, there's a lot of research you can do…I read [the show's conductor] Jane [Glover]'s book about Mozart…and I tried to immerse myself in Mozart's world. At some point, you have to let go of all of that, because it becomes a chain around your neck. You have to have the confidence to just become the idea. I remember saying to David Burke, who is the costume associate, [when] we were picking a color red, Oh, damn it, just pretend I'm Helen Rose; from now on, I just want the brightest damn red you can find! At some point, it's more like I'm designing a Hollywood musical than I am doing a Mozart opera.
Is there a stand-out, or personal favorite, costume in The Magic Flute that viewers should keep an eye out for?
I will say I love the Queen of Night's costume, especially in her first entrance. And I'm not going to give you any more, because it's the most fabulous costume—I hope!
You've dressed so many well-known people throughout your career. Who is one of your favorites?
I have to say, I love dressing Mrs. Clinton; she's a doll and she's so appreciative—I love everything about her.
Your career in design has included not just attire, but items people may not think of as being 'fashion-forward,' such as tissue boxes and cheesecakes. What's the most surprising project you've worked on?
For me, it's no surprise—I really believe it's all design. I don't really think it's such a surprise to say that I'd do cheesecakes…It was one product that they spoke about on QVC when I first launched, and it was just this funny idea that I had to make plaid ones to go with some of the plaid clothes. It was no easy task, let me tell you, getting them to execute a plaid cheesecake. It was a good seller—people loved those cheesecakes!
This is my philosophy: If you fill your life with these products that are happy and pretty and wonderful and full of better energy, your life is just going to be happier and prettier and full of better energy. If you have dull, horrible things around you, you'll have a dull, horrible life.
You've worked in movies, on television, on the runway, on the stage…What type of creative endeavor should we look for next?
I'm focusing a lot on writing right now—people don't understand that I've been writing and writing and writing my entire life. I keep a journal, I've written screenplays…I wrote a one-man show…I'm starting to work on a memoir, which is a very fun, crazy, involved project that's probably going to come out in 2016. I'm also working on a television series, a kind of mock-umentary.
You have some experience in acting. Will we see you on the stage anytime soon?
On stage, I don't know… But you know, I love to act in movies and on TV.
Editor's Note: The photographs of Mr. Mizrahi working on costumes for The Magic Flute were taken during a fitting at Opera Theatre earlier this month.