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Mizrahi designs his reentry

His life after Target includes revitalizing Liz Claiborne and a new cable show

Isaac Mizrahi will debut the new reality series ''The Fashion Show'' on Bravo next month. His first fashion line for Liz Claiborne is in stores now. Isaac Mizrahi will debut the new reality series ''The Fashion Show'' on Bravo next month. His first fashion line for Liz Claiborne is in stores now.
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / April 23, 2009
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Isaac Mizrahi's career is flourishing thanks in part to his new position of creative director at Liz Claiborne, hosting duties on Bravo's forthcoming reality competition "The Fashion Show," and a five-week radio show on Sirius XM called "Tell Me Everything." But it's best not to refer to this spurt of activity as a "career renaissance" or a "second coming" while speaking with the fashion designer.

"No, no, no," he says, displaying his habit of repeating the same word for emphasis and sounding a bit miffed at the implication that he was in need of a renaissance. "I don't think of it that way. It just feels like many more people are watching now."

Soon, many more will be watching when "The Fashion Show" debuts next month on Bravo. Mizrahi is no stranger to the spotlight. He starred in his own talk show on the Oxygen network before launching a show on the Style network. As a designer for Target over the past five years, he was synonymous with cheap chic. At its peak, his revolutionary Target line sold nearly $300 million. Last year, Mizrahi left Target to help revamp a sagging Liz Claiborne. His first Claiborne line is in stores now.

"He's a natural in all aspects," says Jeremy Coleman, senior vice president of talk and entertainment programming at Sirius XM. "He has such an incredible background and so much knowledge about fashion."

We chatted with Mizrahi last week as he prepared for the debut of the radio show, which can be heard Thursday nights at 7 on Martha Stewart Living Radio.

I know a lot of ladies who are quite sad that your Target collaboration has come to an end. I know. But this is what I believe in. I think that investing in fast fashion six years ago was the right place to be. Now it's more about value fashion. I think that's where we are now. It's either about value fashion or it's not going to work.

Were you brought into Liz Claiborne to revamp the line? You see Liz Claiborne as this dowdy old brand. It's my job to come in and make it snappy and fun. I came in thinking it has a history of a great American brand. Let's say I was a chef, and someone said you can have the most amazing kitchen in the world, and you can have all these amazing sous chefs: Now create your fantasy meal. That's how I looked at coming into Liz Claiborne.

Did Tim Gunn convince you to come to Liz? Did he drag you from Target? No. I love Tim Gunn, but I have so far not worked with him at all.

That blows my whole theory that you were doing a Tim Gunn-like career trajectory of going to Liz Claiborne and starring in a show on Bravo. It would seem that way. But it's not. I have my own career trajectory, darling. And before there was Tim Gunn, there was "Unzipped," I'll remind you.

You don't need to remind me. I was watching you way back in the day. A lot of people are thinking, or hoping, that "The Fashion Show" will be the next "Project Runway." How do you think it will be different from "Project Runway"? I've never watched "Project Runway." I maybe watched three episodes of it. I know you don't believe that.

I totally don't believe you. You can ask my boyfriend. I watched one episode where somebody won, and I completely disagreed. It was a guy who had tattoos on his neck. And that was the last episode I remember watching. But I do watch "Top Chef," and our show is modeled after "Top Chef." There's a mini challenge every week, and then there's a live fashion show.

And are you the Tim of the show? I don't think I'm a Tim Gunnish character. I don't work with the designers and tell them how to make their projects better. I'm a judge. I couldn't lead them on in any way. It's only at the end when we criticize that I get to tell them what I think.

What kind of a judge are you? Are you a Simon Cowell or a Paula Abdul? I don't watch that show. Isn't that weird? Except I know Simon Cowell is the mean judge. I'm honest on the show. But I don't know how they're going to edit it. I was very emotional. Almost every time they eliminated someone I was all choked up.