- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

NEW YORK "I'm such a bundle of ambivalence," Isaac Mizrahi says, looking perplexed. "That's my problem or," he adds helplessly,"my virtue."
Either way, at age 41, he's still deciding what to do when he grows up.
Already, he has been a fashion designer with his own celebrated line. He was the subject of the 1995 documentary "Unzipped." He starred in a one-man off-Broadway show called "Les Mizrahi." He even served as a residential makeover artist, helping retrofit a prewar Manhattan apartment house with luxury pied-a-terre.
Then, last year, Mr. Mizrahi decided to freshen up the TV talk-show scene. "The Isaac Mizrahi Show" begins its second season Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. EDT on cable's Oxygen network.
By now, the method to Mr. Mizrahi's many-splendored madness has become clear: He does what he likes.
The show, which originates from both within and beyond his gallerylike studio ("a big white box, like a blank page," he explains), often finds the host sharing a fun activity with his celebrity guest while they chat.
On future segments, he grooms his dog, Harry, with Natalie Portman; designs a cocktail dress for Selma Blair; works out with John Leguizamo; goes thrift-shopping with Kristin Davis; and bowls with Juliette Lewis.
Think of each encounter as a talk-show play date, not only amusing to watch, but also designed to put the guest at ease, which facilitates disclosure.
Any subject, large or small, is fair game.
"Someone talking about their favorite kind of pasta can be just as fascinating to listen to as them talking about global warming or any other monumental topic," Mr. Mizrahi says.
This week, he welcomes comedian Janeane Garofalo with her two large Labradors. Kid and Dewey frolic with Harry while their owners discuss smoking, stand-up comedy, sex (she swears she never slept with off-and-on friend and collaborator Ben Stiller) and the desperate self-image of many young women.
"I call it 'half-shirt nation,' begging to be liked with your body," Miss Garofalo says.
"I want to know who everybody wants to like them," Mr. Mizrahi says.
Along the way, one of Miss Garofalo's dogs interrupts things by urinating on her leg. This is not only a funny moment but also, by provoking her into an unrehearsed response, as revealing as a talk show is ever likely to get.
"That's theater, people. Go with it," Miss Garofalo says with a laugh, showing she's a good sport even when startled. Conversation resumes as she dutifully scrubs Formula 409 into the stain.
"My favorite segments are when something like that happens," Mr. Mizrahi says later to a reporter. "Even when it's a foolish little thing that's what really happened on that stage at that time with that person."
No wonder he embraces the unexpected. He embodies it. Although he's a darling of Manhattan's arty in-crowd, Mr. Mizrahi, whose surname in Hebrew means "man from the East," was raised just east of Manhattan in a close-knit Brooklyn community of Syrian Sephardic Jews.
His father, a children's-wear manufacturer, advised 12-year-old Isaac on buying his first sewing machine and even threw in the extra $40 it cost, despite their "distant and complicated" relationship.
Mr. Mizrahi went on to study dance, music and drama at Manhattan's High School of the Performing Arts. After graduation, he enrolled at Parsons School of Design.
Although he created the dazzling 1930s costumes for last season's Broadway revival of "The Women," he has been out of the rag trade since folding his couture line four years ago.
"I don't like fashion," he declares. "I like clothes."
Besides, he likes making things other than what can be worn his TV show, for instance, which he approaches as a line of 30-minute video creations.
He's doing the show he set out to do, he says, and having a ball, but he acknowledges one concern: that "The Isaac Mizrahi Show," with its all-white studio and voguish guests, might at first glance strike a viewer as too cool.
"Uh-uh," he insists, drawing a sharp distinction between cool as pretentious and cool as smart. "Besides, I think there's always something about my show that brings it right back down to an uncool level."
Namely him. In many ways, he is still that kid from Brooklyn: curious, creative, playful.
"I like really simple, basic things," Mr. Mizrahi says. "I'm really an earnest guy. I can't lie. I don't drink. Ice cream is my favorite thing in the world. I feel like that's what my show is about."
Maybe he's not such a bundle of ambivalence after all.

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