Fashion designer turned cabaret performer Isaac Mizrahi brings his larger-than-life personality to the Chicago stage.
After an acclaimed February 2017 run at Café Carlyle in New York City, fashion figure extraordinaire Isaac Mizrahi is bringing his cabaret act to Chicago.
It’s not so far from the fashion runway to the stage—especially when you’re Isaac Mizrahi, the Brooklyn-bred designer who rocketed to fame in the ’90s at the dawn of the supermodel age and starred in the instant-classic documentary Unzipped. Having long dabbled in cabaret at various NYC venues (including an acclaimed February run at the iconic Café Carlyle), Mizrahi is hitting the road with Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?, his not-so-family-friendly stage act. As he prepares for his Chicago debut at City Winery, the Project Runway All Stars judge recently chatted with Michigan Avenue about the thrill of performing, his changing relationship with fashion, and what makes cabaret such a kick.
Playing the Carlyle is one thing, but touring is another level. I’m scared to death. I’m not scared of Chicago—Chicago to me is very much like New York. I think it’ll be fun. God knows I’ve had difficult audiences, but no matter what, it’s always worth it.
What should the audience expect? It’s not G-rated—how does that sound? There’s a louche kind of quality to the story and [audiences] might not expect that, but maybe now they should.
Have you spent much time here? I used to spend tons of time in Chicago—there used to be this great store called Ultimo and I would go there like three times a year. Sometimes I invent reasons to [come here] because it’s such a fun, cool-looking city with a vibrant art scene and a big grasp on culture.
How has your relationship with fashion changed since your Unzipped days? I feel a lot more resolve. I’m almost embarrassed that people think I cared that much about what was in and out, because that’s what a fashion designer is supposed to really care about. Like, ‘Uh-oh, opaque hose this season, not sheer black hose.’ I don’t care about that stuff, and frankly I find it’s a dead idea. What I loved was textiles and the design of something, and I still do.
What do you enjoy most about performing? The first moments of getting up onstage. You’re so scared but energized and excited to be there—you’re looking right out of the the cannon’s mouth and just about to be shot into oblivion. And really, every performance is that.
Who are some performers that have inspired you? One of my best friends in the world, Sandra Bernhard. And Elaine Stritch, Eartha Kitt, Bobby Short… Everybody has their own style. What’s great about cabaret is that whatever you prepare, you’ve got in your back pocket, but the thing that happens when you get in that room with those people is what happens. And to me, it’s definitely more exciting when you’re not sure what the show’s going to be. It’s a live thing— every show is different. September 29 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., 312-733-9463; citywinery.com