Travel Tips From Fashion Designer Isaac Mizrahi
As he prepares for a cabaret tour of the country, this multi-talented designer, writer and television personality shares his travel loves and loathes.
One of the most recognizable fashion designers on the planet (so much so, he sometimes has to don a cap to travel incognito), Isaac Mizrahi is a man of many, many talents.
Mizrahi has directed, designed costumes and sets for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and costumes for the New York Metropolitan Opera, the American Ballet Theater and the San Francisco Ballet and was the co-creator and star of the 1995 Sundance hit documentary Unzipped about the creation of his fall 1994 ready-to-wear collection. A writer currently penning his memoir I.M. (slated for a 2019 release), a talk show host, graduate of the Fame high school and all around bon vivant, the inimitable, vivacious Mizrahi is also an accomplished entertainer who has appeared at such venerable NYC spots as Cafe Carlyle and the Public Theater's Joe's Pub. Mizrahi recently crisscrossed the country as the star of a New York Times-lauded one-man alt cabaret show “Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?”
The consummate Brooklyn-born New Yorker took a respite from his go-go-go schedule to dish about travel fashion dos and don’ts, his must-have travel items and the childhood trip that still sticks with him.
Is it possible to be fashionable when you travel, or is comfort more critical?
I’m not going to give you the expected answer to that question because I feel like style needs to be reflective of where you are. If you got yourself up in heels and a tight dress and hair and makeup to travel I’d think you were insane. To me the idea of crafting some wonderful outfit to travel in that is functional and works great, to me that’s the essence of style.
Any general recommendations in terms of fabric that works well for travel?
For my purposes any kind of airplane seat textile is going to be grody and disgusting so wear a turtleneck with long sleeves and long pants. Seriously, because you don’t want to come anywhere near that stuff: I don’t know what it’s made of or what’s in that stuff! The other thing I always say is bring a shawl because there are all kinds of smells on planes. Maybe a shawl sprayed with your favorite scent. I never travel without a scented shawl. It’s a crazy thing but true.
I get mine from Loro Piana; it’s just this big black shawl. I recently bought three of them, really a fortune they’re so expensive but I thought, 'if I don’t buy these now and store them they’re not going to make them anymore.'
Favorite travel destination?
My favorite places are places I haven’t been: I’ve never been to Spain and would really love to go. Places I’ve been: I love parts of Italy, I love parts of Japan and then there are places I never want to go again.
I’m going to Venice in October with my husband and it’s going to be this 6-year belated honeymoon. I’m honestly looking forward to it because I planned it well enough and...there’s no stress around it.
You were born in Brooklyn and have lived in NYC your whole life. You’ve said you don’t have to go away to be inspired, that New York is your muse. What are the essential NYC stops for you you would advise any tourist to see?
I think there are some unbelievable museums here. The Frick is great…they are about to redo it, so get in while you can before they ruin the Frick. The new Whitney is out of this world. Just make a day of Brooklyn because it’s so hip and cool and outré, over the top precious, precious, precious.
I’m very old-fashioned. I like old fashioned things about New York like the New York Public Library or going to the opera. Also there are some unexpected lovely parks in the city. Central Park is not unexpected. I’m talking about Washington Square Park, Battery Park, Madison Square Park.
You are a big foodie. I know you’ve said in the past that Il Cantinori is a favorite. Any new favorites?
Yes, I love Il Cantinori. My new favorite is a place called Le Coucou [editor’s note: winner of the Best New Restaurant at this year’s James Beard Awards] and another favorite is Majorelle at the new Lowell Hotel.
Recommended time to travel to NY?
I’m very excited about the fall season in the city. New York is always at its best in the autumn for sure.
As a fashion designer you must have some no-fail packing tips. Do you have any insider tips for how people can arrive without wrinkles or just be more organized in their packing?
This is going to sound really gross, but like, can you ship it, and then ship it home? Anything to not have to check a bag. I don’t care what I have to do, I will not check a bag: It’s policy. I don’t care how long I’m going, it’s not going to happen. That’s one thing.
This is the other thing I do: if I need a tailored jacket on the trip with me, I wear it onto the plane and then it gets hung in the closet on the plane. If you try to pack a tailored jacket it’s just not going to work.
One other thing I think is smart that really works, when you get to your hotel and need to freshen something up and you’re not equipped with an iron, that thing about running the hot water to steam the clothes by hanging in the same room: That really works. Steam is really good for clothes of natural fiber: a wool or a cotton. Not a silk or not a linen. A wool or a cotton will really benefit from steam, I mean that.
What are a couple of really essential things you always travel with?
Something good to read that you start to read in advance that you know is going to absorb. The other is a pair of socks. You never know if your feet are going to be freezing. Also you have to take your shoes off on a plane. If you even look at food your feet swell up and you’re going to have to have socks. And the third thing is a prescription tranquilizer. There’s no way to make it otherwise. A book, socks and Xanax, those are my three must-haves.
Window or aisle?
Aisle because I’m always so afraid of being trapped anywhere. I’m a slight claustrophobe.
What’s the thing you love the most about traveling?
You must learn something when you travel. You have to. Even if you are traveling literally to the next town, you are going to expand your brain in some way. And it triggers all this kind of emotional response for me because I feel so vulnerable around travel...but it winds up working in my favor. So I force it a lot. If I had my way I would never leave the city. You have to pick yourself up and get the hell out the door and go places.
The minute I’m sitting on a plane I either start crying because I’m so emotionally overwrought or I become so inspired by something in front of me, something I’m watching on my iPad; I’m 1,000 times more creatively suggestible.
Do you have childhood memories of travel you cherish, either small trips or big?
My mother used to take us to the airport for lunch even if we weren’t traveling. She would take us to that [Eero] Saarinen pavilion which I think is the coolest thing. When they first opened it in the ‘60s (at the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport), she took us there for lunch.
Seamus Murry, flickr
The best trips for me as a kid were motor trips. On Saturdays my father loved this one lake in upstate New York and there was this general store on the way and we would get sandwiches, I remember distinctly Frito-Lays, those Frito chips. We would get sandwiches and Fritos and go ice skating on this lake.