Isaac Mizrahi Riffs on 'Peter and the Wolf' with New Collaboration 'Third Bird'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday May 22, 2022
Originally published on May 17, 2022

Isaac Mizrahi
Isaac Mizrahi  

In 1994 when fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi agreed to have his life documented for "Unzipped," it is doubtful he knew it would be a stepping stone to a career in the entertainment industry. The film, directed by Douglas Kleeve (who was also Mizrahi's former boyfriend), followed Mizrahi as he designed his 1994 collection. In reviewing the film, the New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote: "A smart, spiky documentary with just the right running time (76 minutes), 'Unzipped' appreciates not only the loony excess that makes fashion such a high-stakes adventure, but also the monomania of Mr. Mizrahi's creative process."

For Maslin the film succeededbecause of Mizrahi: "Mr. Mizrahi's hilarious, happily Napoleonic personality that makes such a treat of 'Unzipped,' Douglas Keeve's crafty valentine to the fashion world in general and this irrepressible designer in particular."

Mizrahi has since appeared for seven years on his television show "The Isaac Mizrahi Show," written three books, and made countless appearances in films and television, including as a judge on "Project Runway: All-Stars" for the series' entire seven-season run.

He has an annual residency at Café Carlyle in New York City and has performed at various venues across the country such as Joe's Pub, The Regency Ballroom and several City Winery locations nationwide. The New York Times noted, "he qualifies as a founding father of a genre that fuses performance art, music and stand-up comedy."

Mizrahi has also directed productions of "A Little Night Music" and "The Magic Flute" for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Mizrahi has his own production company, Isaac Mizrahi Entertainment, under which he has several projects in development in television, theatre and literature. His New York Times Bestselling memoir," I.M.," was published in February 2019.

Since 2007, Mizrahi has narrated performances of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" as part of the "Works & Process" program at New York's Guggenheim Museum. "After over a hundred performances, Mizrahi was inspired to create an homage to this iconic work," reads a release on the Guggenheim website. "And during the pandemic Works & Process commissioned 'Third Bird.' The work features a libretto by Mizrahi, music by composer Nico Muhly played by Ensemble Signal and conducted by Brad Lubman, and choreography by John Heginbotham. Highlighting a cast of eight, including a flying bluebird, a swimming duck, and a running ostrich, "Third Bird" celebrates each individual's unique strengths.

EDGE spoke to Mizrahi about the project, as well as what celebrity he loves to design for and his favorite up-and-coming designer.

"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Featuring Daniel Pettrow. Photo: Joe Brondo fo
"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Featuring Daniel Pettrow. Photo: Joe Brondo fo  

EDGE: Tell us about the premiere of "Third Bird" at Works & Process at the Guggenheim?

Isaac Mizrahi : For the past 15 years, I've been doing this presentation of "Peter and the Wolf" at the Works and Process at the Guggenheim every Christmas. It started off as a collaboration with different artists. Then it turned into this thing where I started to direct and designed the costumes. At the start of COVID, the show got canceled and the Guggenheim approached John Higginbotham, the choreographer, had choreographed "Peter in The Wolf." In return, John reached out to me and told me that they are doing some kind of companion piece to "Peter," and asked if would I like to be involved. I said yes, except I didn't want to do it as a pandemic show. I wanted to wait until we could all be in person. I wanted it to be a bigger-than-life show.

I approached Nico Muhly, who is an old friend of mine, and he immediately said yes [to composing the music]. That's the genesis of the show. I was always thinking about the different characters in the story and what they were like before Peter came into the picture.

"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Featuring Ramona Kelley. Photo: Joe Brondo for
"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Featuring Ramona Kelley. Photo: Joe Brondo for  

EDGE: As the narrator, what's the most important attribute that you need?

Isaac Mizrahi : It's a story that I tell a lot. I think as the narrator, each time I tell it, it has to be slightly different, and it has to have a freshness to it. It has to be like the first time I am telling it each time. This may sound a little crazy, but at night when I can't sleep, which is almost always, I recite "Peter and the Wolf" to myself because it's one of the few things I've memorized. So, most important for me as the narrator, is to keep it fresh, and I surprise myself every time I tell it, as though it's happening for the first time.

EDGE: "Third Bird" celebrates each person's unique strengths. How do you find what your strengths are?

Isaac Mizrahi : I don't think you can look. I believe they find you. When you do find them, embrace and nurture them. Love them and be proud of them. The irony is that it's not until you're older that you actually go can say, "This is who I am, and I don't care what you think."

EDGE: The music will be composed by Nico Muhly and the choreography by John Heginbotham. What importance does both music and choreography play in the story?

Isaac Mizrahi : I've known Nico and John for many years. One of the encouraging parts of this whole thing, and why it works so well, is due to how I feel about each of those guys. They were so well suited to write and contribute to this project. What really helped was I kind of understood how they both work, and who they are as artists. The collaborations between us three have been brilliant. We started with Zoom meetings, which is not that easy for a project like this, but we made it work.

More important than the story is the atmosphere that is created by the music. The emotionality that is created by the music is the connection to the story. The words say what it's supposed to be, but the music is what it actually is. The movement is something that also kind of conveys the spirit of the show. It sets the tone of the show. The music and choreography enhance the narrator's performance.

Sandra Bernhard and Isaac Mizrahi
Sandra Bernhard and Isaac Mizrahi  

EDGE: Why does the Guggenheim make the perfect venue for this show?

Isaac Mizrahi : They were quick to commission it. That's one reason. They are the ones who came to us and said: "We'd love to commission you during COVID." Also, this show is an extension of the "Peter and the Wolf" show that's been going on for so many years. Producer Charles Fabius approached me back in 2007 and asked If I would like to read "Peter" with the Juilliard Orchestra. I was so excited to be asked to do this, because my childhood memories of the piece run deep. I remember growing up listening to the Leonard Bernstein record and loved it. In my 30s, I saw Elaine Stritch perform it with a very small orchestra, and it was so fabulous. It was in a little local church and something that I'll never forget. As a venue, the Guggenheim, is amazing. It's a star itself.

EDGE: You have dressed a lot of celebrities. Do you have a favorite?

Isaac Mizrahi : Of all the people I have dressed, I've become very close friends with Sandra Bernhard, so I would say she's my favorite just because we're like family.

"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Photo: Joe Brondo for Guild Hall of East Hampt
"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Photo: Joe Brondo for Guild Hall of East Hampt  

EDGE: Favorite emerging designers are you closely watching?

Isaac Mizrahi : Honestly, I loathe this question. Not because I don't like stuff I see, but it's because I don't see enough to say, "Oh, that's good," or "That's bad." The one designer that I do like [is] John Christopher Rogers. He's not so up and coming anymore; he is more established now. I like what he has done within the fashion world. I haven't really made note of others, because I haven't really seen much.

EDGE: Summer is right around the corner. What are the "Do & Don'ts" of summer fashion?

Isaac Mizrahi : You know, summer is not my season. I actually don't like summer. I don't like abbreviated clothes. I like more clothes. I like coats and sweaters and layers. I don't like when people look as naked as they do on the streets in the summer. I wish people would wear more clothes. Really, I am not prudish. I'm as perverted as the next person. Summer clothes are just not interesting. They look boring to me. I don't like seeing people wearing short shorts, tube tops, flip flops, and muscle shirts. Just remember to dress appropriately for the occasion, and dress your age.

EDGE: The best thing about being a New Yorker?

Isaac Mizrahi : I think the best thing about being a New Yorker is how much there is here. There is so much in New York, more than I think anywhere in the world. I love Rome, Europe, Boston, and San Francisco. I love a lot of places on Earth, but I find that New York is home. I know it's not for everyone, but it's for me. Darling, there is just so much variety here. It's the least boring place in the entire world. New Yorkers just keep going and going, and everything moves at such a crazy fast pace. It's really exciting to me as it has ever been. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

For more information about "Third Bird," to be performed June 3 -5 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, follow this link.

For more information about Isaac visit, visit his website.


"Third Bird Show & Tell," Works & Process at the Guggenheim LaunchPAD "Process as Destination" at The Church, Sag Harbor in collaboration with Guild Hall of East Hampton, December 5, 2021. Photo: Joe Brondo for Guild Hall of East Hampton