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‘Unzipped’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 18, 1995

"UNZIPPED" is the real "Ready to Wear": Much stranger and funnier than anything Robert Altman could invent, this stylishly made documentary (of sorts) follows fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi as he careens around the world dreaming up and executing his Fall '94 collection.

Director Douglas Keeve's kinetic camera follows Mizrahi (almost) everywhere and in hyper-close-up—Keeve was Mizrahi's lover at the time and thus enjoyed more access and intimacy than anyone else might have—and the simultaneously crude and sophisticated "Unzipped" is often reminiscent of Madonna's "Truth or Dare" semi-documentary.

But the garrulous, easily distractible Mizrahi is an altogether more appealing, funny, sympathetic figure than Herself. A real character. And he knows it. (And he works it.) He alternates between confessing to the camera and trying to entertain it—his impressions are a scream: Keeve crosscuts between Mizrahi's drop-dead Mary Tyler Moore ("Between her and Jackie Kennedy, they shaped this country," he proclaims), Bette Davis, Loretta Young and Eartha Kitt and the real thing.

And the people around him! Here's Mizrahi hanging with best friend and alter ego Sandra Bernhard, Mizrahi being harangued by self-caricature Vogue director Polly Mellen (Tracey Ullman's got nothing on the real thing), dressing equally flamboyant genius choreographer Mark Morris (imagine the two of them in the same room!). And Mizrahi schmoozing with fashion mavens, street people, even (especially!) his own kvelling mother, who makes Coffee Tawk's Linda Richman look like a shiksa. You couldn't make people like this up, and certainly no one would believe any actor playing them.

Clearly, "Unzipped" is going to appeal to a specialized audience, people who subscribe to Vogue, Allure and WWD, who watch Elsa Klensch and "House of Style," who know their Missoni from their Mossimo.

So for the rest of us, "Unzipped" has Supermodels-a-go-go. Mizrahi is a man whose job requires daily contact with these overexposed beauties, so we're treated to backstage glimpses of the goddesses: See Naomi plead to keep her navel ring. See ever-sunny Cindy get a bit catty ("I mean, like, hello!—my pores are not that small!"). See Linda stare down the camera.

There's even some substance to go with all this style (you've got to be looking for it, though). Mizrahi's talent is undeniable and it's absorbing observing the intuition, inspiration and perspiration (his '94 line is influenced by the Ouija board, "That Girl" and "Nanook of the North") that goes into the climactic unveiling of his gorgeous clothes.

A touch of suspense: Mizrahi whimsically decrees that the catwalk will be backed by a simple white stage scrim—which means the audience will get a full view of the models changing backstage. Will Naomi dare to be bare? Will Cindy strut her stuff? Will Kate rise to the bait?

"Unzipped" begins and ends with the camera trailing the designer as he schleps to his corner newsstand to apprehensively read the reviews, just as if his collection were a big Broadway show. Which in a way, it is.

Fabulous. Absolutely.

UNZIPPED (PG-13) — Contains brief glimpses of nude supermodels, adult language and relentless fabulousness.

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