Isaac Mizrahi has had countless ups and downs as a designer, but that roller coaster ride may be just what makes him such an empathetic judge (and in many ways a counter to the merciless but funny Michael Kors) on “Project Runway All Stars.” In a conference call with reporters, Mizrahi tackled topics ranging from his love for Teletubbies, why not watching the show has been good for him and his favorite moment on the show.
Which designer do you think has grown the most over the course of the season?
I think it’s Michael, actually. I remember thinking when I first watched him on his season [that] he really needs to come a long way, and by the end of that season he really learned a lot. By the time he came to “All Stars,” he was really really ready.
What’s your thing about Teletubbies? Do you actually like them, or were you just saying that?
I love them. I don’t think [the show] airs anymore, right? It’s random, but my collection at that time was totally inspired by them. They’re so clean and beautiful and they’re in those primary colors… I love it, just love it.
How would you describe the four designers who remain — Kenley, Austin, Michael and Mondo?
I would describe Austin as flamboyant… Kenley would be kind of… witty. Mondo is inventive and soulful. A lot of soul, I think. And Michael is sexy and luxurious.
Did you really forget that Austin’s last name wasn’t Starlet, but Scarlett?
I was talking really fast, I knew who he was, it was just a little soundbite. You take too much Xanax and it happens. There was a moment when I thought it was Starlet, and I thought it was so awesome.
Had you watched previous seasons of the show?
I had watched selectively. I hadn’t followed it obsessively. It’s my work, something I was both attracted to and repelled by. It’s the subject of my life. As much as I find it interesting, I also want to run away from it.
Do you think not watching actually helped you as a judge?
Some of them I know from their past seasons and some were completely new. It didn’t matter, because each week we watch what they do and discuss it with fresh eyes. You want to really force yourself to put aside all predispositions. After a while, it’s a very easy thing to do, they’re so incredibly talented, in the end, it would be fine not to know whose clothes are whose. In the end, it benefited them and it benefited me.
Which contestant were you shocked to see go?
I think I was the most shocked to see Rami go. When it happened, I think you could hear the gasp across America. That was a very rough week, because it was about highs and lows. It was a trick week for judges. We had the highest scores and the lowest scores, and the lowest thing had to be eliminated, and it happened to be Rami. It was such a shock to all of us. I hated it. I hated every week. The most profound loss I felt, though, was Rami.
Who was your favorite guest judge?
I think, she’s so maternal herself, she’s such an icon, Diane Von Furstenberg. She’s incredibly entertaining and wise and stylish. I love watching her and I love being around her. The first job I had out of school between high school and college I was a gofer for the company that licensed her blouses. That was my first job. I lasted about two weeks. The woman working on the line was not the nicest person and she didn’t like me. I think she liked buying blouses more than sketching them.
This season we didn’t have a “regular people size challenge. If you had, who do you think would have won?
I think it’s really hard to say, because the chips fall wherever they fall each week. Men’s clothes, I think maybe Rami would have done very well. With plus size, maybe Kenley, because she always thinks about the real woman all the time and her most fantasy creation is always something very wearable. It would have been Kenley.
What was your favorite moment on the show?
My most favorite moment, let’s see. I mean I think my most favorite moment was when somebody won. I won’t tell you who it was, but it was the best moment. The worst moment is sending someone home. I think every one of us is really candid about our criticisms, and we gave it to them straight, but I would say no matter what that it’s hard to tell someone to go home no matter how nicely you put that. Somehow what made up for that week after week was watching someone win. It’s wonderful to see how incredibly motivating that was. That was my favorite, watching someone win.
Runway isn’t always about what’s most wearable — sometimes it’s about fantasy. What are you looking for in a winning design — something any woman can wear or something that grabs your attention?
Sometimes the most wearable thing is the best thing on the runway. WIth the flags [challenge] it was [bold], but it was so wearable and made the woman look so beautiful. There were things that were extremely bold and they didn’t win because they weren’t as good. I keep saying this to people; we can’t say why it’s better or worse, it’s just here’s the winner, darling. I tried to explain that to Kenley on the after show one time, try to do something different, but sometimes she would listen and sometimes she would fly in our faces, and she would do fabulously well anyway. Before or after anything, whether it’s wearable or flamboyant, the soul of the thing, it comes across in person a great deal
Do you think Kenley has started listening to advice or is she as stubborn as she was in her first season?
It’s her greatest asset, being stubborn. I think the fact that she does not bend is her biggest asset, that she doesn’t listen. I felt that was my biggest asset, too, when I was starting out.
Your shoes are great! Do you wear them to make a statement?
It’s really to do with what my feet wear the most comfortably on those long days. I get all these shoes, they make them for me…I have so many pairs. If there is a signature then I’ll take that… I have other great shoes, but I dress a lot for comfort. Belgian loafers, I just love them.