Entertainment » Theatre

Mizrahi Costumes ’Barefoot in the Park’

by Deshundra Jefferson
Wednesday Feb 15, 2006

NEW YORK - Isaac Mizrahi was a tot growing up in Brooklyn when Neil Simon's classic comedy, "Barefoot in the Park," debuted on Broadway. Now he's designed the costumes for a revival of the romantic romp.

"My goal here was not to design costumes, but to almost document what the winter of 1965 was like," Mizrahi says. "I wanted this to be as random as real life."

A challenge for the designer was to develop each character through clothing choices that best reflected the character's personality.

"Clothes are part of the character. They can't but help inform who you are," says Jill Clayburgh who plays Mrs. Banks, mother of the comedy's young heroine, portrayed by
Amanda Peet.
Patrick Wilson plays Peet's husband in this new production, now running at the Cort Theatre.

Clayburgh had only a slight familiarity with Mizrahi's clothes, but was quickly impressed by his meticulous attention to detail and the amount of thought he gave to understanding each character's needs.

Armed with her mother's college yearbook, Peet came to rehearsals with a few ideas about what the luminous Corie Bratter should wear. Much to her delight, Mizrahi shared many of the same argyle socks and penny-loafer fantasies.

A couple of quirky touches ? the apron Corie wears over her toggle coat in the opening scene ? hint at the character's free-spirited life.

Mizrahi, draped in white tunic, flowing pants and a scarf, was born in 1961 and calls the 1960s his aesthetic, the template for his approach to style.

So he was a perfect fit for "Barefoot in the Park" which was Simon's first monster hit on Broadway. It opened in October 1963 at the Biltmore Theatre and ran for more than 1,500 performances. The original, directed by
Mike Nichols, starred Elizabeth Ashley and
Robert Redford as newlyweds who live in a tiny fifth-floor walkup. Mildred Natwick played Clayburgh's role.

The designer researched the period extensively through the Internet and old magazines ? his assistant, Sam Wilson, found an Esquire from 1965. But Mizrahi refused to watch the 1967 movie version starring
Jane Fonda and Redford because he wanted a fresh take on the characters and how to dress them.

Mizrahi is no stranger to the stage. When he was a child, he put together puppet shows in which he made the actual puppets, wrote the scripts, recorded the music and even sold tickets. He later went to New York's High School of Performing Arts, where he created costumes for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and acted in "As You Like It."

He was offered two competing summer job his senior year at Parsons School of Design ? one with the Public Theater's costume shop master, Milo Morrow, and the other as a paid assistant for Seventh Avenue superstar Perry Ellis. The choices were the proverbial fork in the road, different paths that he didn't quite see at the time, he says.

"Even the head of Parsons who sent me on the job interviews, she was confused," he recalls with a laugh. "She was like, 'I don't know what job you should take.'"

Mizrahi decided to work with Ellis, and eventually went on to establish his own line. He now has a daily talk show on the Style Network and is seen as a lifestyle expert.

But his approach to style is more democratic than authoritative.

"He's not always right; it feels so healthy," says "Barefoot" director Scott Elliott, who describes Mizrahi as a "wonderful collaborator." The two previously worked together on the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of "The Women" for which Mizrahi received a Drama Desk Award in 2002.

Elliott and Mizrahi are also collaborating on the Roundabout's upcoming Broadway revival of "The Threepenny Opera," opening in April, and Mizrahi is designing the costumes for the English National Opera's "King Arthur."

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