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Designer Mizrahi Is Closing His Business

Apparel: Move comes after Chanel withdraws financial support because of ongoing losses. Much of his collection failed to sell at full price, insiders say.

October 03, 1998|MIMI AVINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Isaac Mizrahi, a designer whose career illustrated that on the fashion map, the roads to celebrity and financial success don't always intersect, is shuttering his business after Chanel Inc., his major backer, withdrew its support.

"Upon analyzing the future, both I and my partners agree that this is the best direction to take," Mizrahi said in a statement. Details of the dissolution were being ironed out Friday but company officials said fall collection orders will be shipped.

Mizrahi seemed to have all the elements required of fashion's elite: a surplus of personal charm, splashy runway shows for his well-received designs, enthusiastic endorsement of the fashion media and the respect of prestigious stores. His colorful, classic clothes had passionate customers too, just not enough of them to offset years of losses. In business for a decade, the 36-year-old New Yorker was one of the next generation of American star designers positioned to attain the status of Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

But unlike those familiar names, Mizrahi never developed licenses for perfume, jeans or other high-volume products that can make up for the traditionally meager revenue generated by the high-priced clothing that establishes a designer's image. His less expensive secondary collection, called Isaac, was inaugurated in 1996 but never found its customer base and was shut down after three seasons.

It was well-known in the fashion community that although Mizrahi's annual sales were $20 million to $30 million, his business was uneven and as much as 50% of the collection did not sell at full price.

"Most unfortunately, Isaac wasn't as successful as we had hoped he would have been with us, and it was necessary for us to pass on his collection the past few seasons," said John Martens, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills. "He is such a talent and I like him tremendously as a designer. I hope he comes back in some way. We're selling a lot of his shoes right now."

Ironically, Mizrahi's fall collection had been selling particularly well. Barney's Inc. flagship Madison Avenue store in New York held a Mizrahi trunk show two weeks ago, and sold nearly $100,000 worth of clothes in a single day.

"We're very sad about the news," Barney's spokesman Jason Weisenfeld said. "The Mizrahi business has been very strong in a number of our stores in the last few seasons."

A fashion insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "The bleeding was going on for so long that surgery wasn't done in time. At this point, sales weren't enough."

It was the ongoing losses that prompted Chanel, the American unit of the French fashion house that had been financing Isaac Mizrahi & Co. for the last six years, to pull the plug this week. Chanel owns the designer's trademark.

Mizrahi was the subject of "Unzipped," a 1995 documentary that chronicled a fashion season from his point of view. He also has a small role in the upcoming Woody Allen film "Celebrity." Mizrahi said that he now plans to concentrate on acting, screenwriting and producing films.

During Mizrahi's most recent visit to Los Angeles, in December, a large Hollywood contingent turned out when he served as a co-chairman of the Fire and Ice Ball, one of this city's top philanthropic and social events.

Lisa Eisner, a loyal Los Angeles customer and friend, said she enjoyed wearing Mizrahi's clothes because they weren't readily identifiable: "There wasn't any big logo branding you when you wore Isaac. They were happy clothes, and he had the sense of humor that our generation responds to.

"There was always something great and goofy about what he did, so inventive and optimistic," she said. "It feels like the end of something that was so important in American fashion."

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