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Easing Into Stardom

Isaac Mizrahi didn’t ask to be the new golden boy of fashion. He swears he didn’t even take anybody to lunch. Yet, after hardly a year in business, he’s called the Brooklyn-born nebbish turned matinee idol and the newest star by industry kingpins.

He doesn’t have Calvin Klein’s looks, Ralph Lauren’s suavity or Bill Blass’ class. But he has a client list they can relate to, with Liza Minnelli and Candice Bergen at the top.

Success, however, is taking its toll on the 27-year-old designer. He chain smokes, doesn’t complete one thought before he’s on to the next and exists in such a state of adrenaline buzz that one cup of coffee makes him virtually explode in nervous energy.

“I’d be a dope not to feel all the pressure from the outside, but the minute I start getting nervous I focus on the clothes,” he says. Already, that ability to focus has won him the Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent, bestowed by the powerful Council of Fashion Designers of America.

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And there is no denying his original style: A blend of activewear shapes and luxury fabrics for a look he describes as “selective ease.”

He actually invents new words to describe his more unusual fashion ideas. This spring, for example, there is the Mizrahi “jumpshirt,” a jumpsuit cut as loose and comfortably as a body-length shirt.

Other specials for spring are the evening pants that could pass for pajamas with a drawstring waist, except that they are made of rich satin. He pushes the fashion-ease idea further when he sends models down a runway, wearing oversize outfits only half buttoned up.

Mizrahi says he’s just trying to fill a fashion void. “What’s missing from the American market is comfortable clothes that work in the same context as very hard, tailored things.”

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Women may be stopped cold by his prices--including the $760 sports dresses and $1,400 robes that he showed at I. Magnin in Beverly Hills. But, he believes, the clothes offer a lot for the money.

“The aim in sportswear is to be able to buy one or two pieces and wear them all week long, and look different every single day,” he says.

Women who buy one designer’s complete outfit end up with a packaged look, and that is just what they deserve, he says. A couple of pieces from a collection are enough.

When a customer at I. Magnin asked what to wear with the designer’s $475 pants and $440 silk jacket, Mizrahi suggested a white Hanes T-shirt and assured her, “That’s really chic.”

He, by the way, wears a white L. L. Bean turtleneck with elastic-waist trousers and unstructured jacket of his own design.

Mizrahi’s parents were his earliest fashion inspirations. His first lessons came from his mother, Sara, who to him looked “just divine, whether she wore a Chanel suit or something from Orbach’s basement or my father’s pajamas at the beach.”

His father manufactured children’s clothes while Isaac was growing up in Brooklyn, attending the Flatbush Yeshiva and later Parsons School of Design.

Before opening his business, Mizrahi was an assistant to the late Perry Ellis.

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