Clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi, a tasseled lavender scarf wrapped around his neck like a boa constrictor, blew into the Grand Ballroom of the Park Hyatt Philadelphia in major chitchat mode.
And as soon as the nearby ladies caught wind of the A-list fashion celebrity's presence, they converged. Smiling. Oohing. Aahing. Looking chicest among the bunch was Randie Berman, the assistant general manager at Saks, in a black Mizrahi dress with a tank bodice and knee-length A-line skirt.
"Look at all the ladies around me in dresses," gushed the curly-headed designer, who talks as much with his hands as he does with his lips.
"I just love women in dresses. Last night I was at an event at the Pier [in New York] and everyone looked just ugh . . . except those wearing my clothes."
This is the Mizrahi magic.
The designer, the first to make high fashion accessible to the masses with his 2003 Target line, was in town yesterday for Daisy Days - an annual event that begins a fund-raising campaign for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Mizrahi is the creative director for the Liz Claiborne brand, and he also designs his own ready-to-wear women's line, Isaac Mizrahi.
In the last three years, the fashion show and luncheon put on by Children's Hospital and Saks Fifth Avenue has featured a high-profile designer roster that's included Michael Kors and the design duo Badgley Mischka. Yesterday, Mizrahi auctioned off tickets to his spring 2010 runway presentation under the Bryant Park tents and a tour of his showroom, both for more than $5,000. The luncheon, the 53d, is projected to raise at least $1.6 million.
"What I do isn't brain surgery," Mizrahi said to the audience of 640, mostly women. "It's not what the doctors do. But sometimes I get to help out in my own way."
Mizrahi (who's on a diet, you know) was wearing a suit from his signature collection. Walking past his fall 2009 collection, he took a seat backstage and continued talking. His new reality TV project, The Fashion Show, debuts on Bravo next Thursday as the replacement for Project Runway, which is moving to Lifetime.
Mizrahi stars along with former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland, and Fern Mallis, the senior vice president of IMG Fashion (the company that produces New York Fashion Week) is also a judge. Fifteen designers will compete for $125,000 and a chance for their styles to be sold in the retail market.
"I wasn't prepared for the drama that was to unfold," said Mizrahi, admitting that he wasn't a big reality television fan before he spent five weeks filming the show. "There were 10 eliminations, and I cried through at least three or four of them."
With the economy teetering, women want comfort fashions, Mizrahi said, but they also want to be surprised.
That might be why Mizrahi's fall 2009 Isaac Mizrahi collection was so electric. And just like the fashion editors and buyers at February's New York Fashion Week, women gasped yesterday at his tote bag-as-hat accessory.
Instead of continuing with muted tones for fall, he liberally mixed bold plaids and quarter-sized polka dots, stripes and florals. He also threw in slinky metallics in golds, purples, and blacks. He wrapped women like blankets in ankle-length skirts, and instead of cigarette trousers, clothed them in comfy and cuffed wide-legged pants.
"The mood right now is escapist," Mizrahi said. "But I also think it's fabulous. Colorful, fresh, and new crazy and comfortable."
Born in Brooklyn, Mizrahi went to the High School of Performing Arts, eventually studying fashion design at Parsons The New School for Design. He has designed his own line for more than 20 years and has been awarded four prestigious Council of Fashion Design Awards, including a special award for his documentary, UNZIPPED.
He has designed clothing for movies and plays and just completed a costume-design debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera with Orfeo ed Euridice. He is now writing an opera of his own - it will debut at a theater in St. Louis - for which he also will design costumes.
Why does he do so much? How does he keep it all together? "I just like solving problems," he said.
"For my more affordable lines, I solve problems for women. And for the high-end lines, it's like I create problems. I mean, how are women going to wear a bag on their head as a hat? I do all of this to stop me from getting bored. That's the fun in it all."