- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Liz Claiborne clothes hold a special place in the closets of Washington’s working woman. The designer’s clean lines, conservative cuts and midmarket appeal made her suits and handbags must-haves in Washington’s ever-conservative market. Now, nearly two years after her death, Liz, as she was commonly known by her cult following, is living on through Isaac Mizrahi, a couture designer best known of late for his cheap-chic line for Target.

Mr. Mizrahi became creative director for Liz Claiborne New York last year, and under his leadership, the Liz of the ‘80s is moving into this century, so the daughters of the women Liz dressed can be just as comfortable and stylish as their mothers, but with a new edge.

In Washington terms, the New York-bred Mr. Mizrahi wants the new Liz to be just as relevant for the intern as the senator for whom she works.

“I am honored to revitalize the ideals that [Ms. Claiborne] stood for, great quality pieces at the right price that speak to the modern woman,” Mr. Mizrahi, 47, tells The Washington Times via e-mail.

Mr. Mizrahi says that although Washington women tend to favor classic over edgy, his spring line appeals to women juggling a busy lifestyle. Indeed, first lady Michelle Obama was photographed recently at a Washington soup kitchen in a white ruffled blouse and sweater by Mr. Mizrahi.

Fashion observers such as Cynthia O’Connor, who are well-versed with the Washington market, say Mr. Mizrahi’s line, available at department stores such as Macy’s, Belk and Dillard’s, has debuted at a fortuitous time, as working women are feeling the economic crunch but can’t afford a cramp in their style.

“Isaac has a classic but sophisticated sensibility that can fit the lifestyles of many American women, especially ones with careers,” she says. “In this economy, women are looking for labels such as Isaac Mizrahi that provide a full wardrobe for the season, head to toe at very affordable prices.”

Mr. Mizrahi, a Parsons School of Design graduate, explains that the Washington woman of today is looking for the same thing “as any other smart urban woman. They like great clothes at great prices, and they adore looking great. The women I dress are ageless and upbeat. They need snappy clothes that are flexible and long-lasting.”

He says he brings a new design philosophy to the label that sets him apart.

“I invented this concept called color-math. It means just enough color and just enough math. I layer, mix and match many ranges of colors to create many different looks,” he says.

Two of the looks for women who want to think outside the suit are the shirtdress and classic trench, both retailing for less than $200. Mr. Mizrahi has made them in sunny, optimistic hues such as yellow and sky blue.

“Shirtdresses are great for women on the go. They can be thrown on in a minute and look great; they are also timeless. We love our navy and gray gingham dresses for spring. I adore our khaki trench with yellow floral lining or our navy mackintosh coat with polka-dot lining. They are really special,” he says.

The wide-leg trouser is a grand blast from the past as a Katharine Hepburn favorite, and it’s featured prominently in Mr. Mizrahi’s spring line for $69 to $79.

“I think that a wide-leg pant looks great on most body types. It gives a long leg and accentuates the waist. Best shoes are high, high heels. The higher the better. The pants are best paired with a fitted sweater.”

Time will tell if Mr. Mizrahi’s formula for success will help the struggling label re-emerge to its former glory, but many of the old guard of Liz fans, including Washington style consultant Kara Allan, are holding out hope.

“Blending the old with the new is a fabulous idea. I think we will see more of this due to the current economic status. The consumers are the ones that will benefit from such alliances. I am excited to see what happens,” she says.

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