With his penchant for lassoing his Elsa Lanchester hair in a bandanna and his fondness for doing wicked imitations of anyone he has ever met, Isaac Mizrahi would be a one-man amusement park even if he weren’t of interest for being one of fashion’s current designer darlings and one of Sandra Bernhard’s best friends. In Unzipped, an absolutely fabulous — and wickedly funny — documentary about one fashion season in the life of a chubby kid from Brooklyn with an encyclopedic memory of old movies, filmmaker Douglas Keeve captures the Importance of Being Isaac, but also something deeper: the Hysteria of Making Fashion. Models flutter (Linda Evangelista pouts); magazine editors pontificate (Allure creative director Polly Mellen brays about one design, ”Hellloooo! This says hello to me very distinctly”); things go right and wrong in a frenzy of high camp and high drama. Gorgeously woven in are old home movies, interviews, quiet moments of repose (Mizrahi plays a delicate ”Clair de Lune” at his piano), fidgety meetings, clips of favorite movie and TV moments (”Between Mary Tyler Moore and Jackie Kennedy, they shaped this country,” he says), and interviews with the designer’s doting mother, Sarah, who marvels at how her son noticed the daisies on her mules — when he was 4 years old.
Mizrahi epitomizes the styles of our times. And he’s a great subject. Voluble, emotional, creative, and funny, he’s self-mocking ham enough to let loose in front of the camera, yet serious artist enough to work hard toward his vision of perfection. Describing one of the themes that dominated his fall 1994 collection — inspiration for which came in part from watching the 1935 Clark Gable-Loretta Young version of The Call of the Wild — he calls it ”’50s cheesecake meets, like, Eskimo kind of crazy fake fur.” (To another interviewer he says, ”I’m sort of doing, like, you know, Giselle meets Fred Flintstone.”) And Keeve — who was Mizrahi’s lover at the time, although the couple is now splitsville, undone in part by tensions that arose during the making of this movie — captures all of these moments astutely. What sets Unzipped apart from Robert Altman’s tarted-up Ready to Wear or Frederick Wiseman’s deadpan Model is Keeve’s own spirited sense of style: His movie has a delicious texture all its own. ”Helllooo,” this document says, very distinctly. A