Here's why Isaac Mizrahi is a hybrid professional
Finding other hybrids is a passion of mine because hybrids are so darn cool, but they’re not always easy to identify. Mostly, people don’t realize they are one, or they don’t know how to talk about how they do what they do because hybrids aren’t a familiar concept yet. I’m trying to change that.
Hybrid professionals are people who mix and mash their professional identities together, working within the overlapping spaces, because that’s where their unique value lies. Other professionals may have depth in one area or breadth in multiple areas, but a hybrid thrives by blending across deep and wide. They are integrators.
What are Isaac Mizrahi’s Professional Identities?
From the late 1980s into the 90s, Isaac Mizrahi was a major force in the fashion industry in New York City. For a long time, I thought Mizrahi was just another flamboyant fashion designer until I heard his TED Talk. That’s when I realized he’s more than a designer.
Here’s a quote from his talk where Mizrahi stated:
“I don’t really think of myself as a designer, and I don’t really think of myself necessarily as a fashion designer, and frankly I don’t really know what to call myself. I think of myself as um…oh, I don’t know what I think of myself as. So, that’s just that.”
Puzzled, I continued listening.
“I love to cook. And I often look at things as though they’re food. Like I say, oh, you know, would you serve a rotten chicken, then how could you serve, you know, a beat up old dress or something? I always relate things to kitchenry.” (1)
I cocked my head to the side. What did he just say? This isn’t how chefs speak on the Food Network.
In describing food, Mizrahi references clothing, which is a unique comparison and one that suits his way of looking at things. Right here, is a quick flash of Mizrahi working from the intersections of his professional identities, and it’s a clue about his hybridity.
I’m not the only one curious about Mizrahi’s range of professional identities. The editor of Cosmopolitan commented on his evolution from fashion designer to “polymath — businessman, entertainer.” A 2013 New York Times article wrote that Mizrahi is “distracted by his interests in set design, acting and hosting talk and reality shows, he’s been too unfocused to develop a signature style that might once have propelled him into the pantheon of great American designers,” (2). This editorial acknowledges the richness of Mizrahi’s abilities and scolds him for being too many things, hence making him sound scattered.
However, Mizrahi has had an amazing career by anyone’s standards. He has made a name for himself, and his professional identities span from being a fashion designer to a talk show host to a cabaret performer to a chef. Without a doubt, he’s a career shapeshifter. Although it may seem disjointed, it makes sense. It’s all part of him; it’s who he is. Mizrahi’s professional brand is a conglomeration of many things.
A press release from the Jewish Museum in New York City remarked how Mizrahi is, “at the intersection of high style and popular culture,” (3), and former colleague, Kristin Naiman, reflected that, "He was super unique in fashion because he mixed high and low references. He was also charming to watch because he looked for intelligence in everything. He was a minimalist with a maximalist hand." (4)
To mix high and low, pop culture with high style, and to be at the intersection all signify that Mizrahi is a hybrid. His professional magic is derived from his ability to blend extremes together in ways that add new value to industries or companies. In his partnership with Target, Mizrahi took what he knew from the high fashion world and applied it to a budget market. He ended up creating $300 million in sales in 5 years, a huge success in any company. Essentially, he did this by creating a new kind of retail category, and it broke the boundaries of the fashion industry.
In my mind, anyone who can be a fashion designer turned cheesecake maker turned author, like Mizrahi did, is worthy of being an inspirational hybrid.