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Isaac Mizrahi could've been like Kanye West in a different world

The fashion icon is stepping on a different kind of stage this week, performing cabaret at Cafe Carlyle.
Isaac MizrahiGetty Images

Isaac Mizrahi’s first love wasn’t fashion — it was singing.

The Brooklyn-born designer of everything from red carpet couture to Target’s most coveted collaboration was already a star in the ‘70s, just not for his stitching. “I’m just a big ham, ever since I was a kid,” says Mizrahi, who at 8 started doing female impersonations in his driveway "for anybody who would listen. People used to beg me because I was great; I used to sound just like Judy Garland.

“If the world were a different place, I would’ve done that, but eventually I would’ve found clothes — like Kanye!”

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Alas, it was a different time and his parents “didn’t exactly encourage me,” as he put it. So Mizrahi, 55, set aside cabaret in favor of becoming America’s most populist designer beginning with his first fashion line at age 15. Along the way, he dabbled in the entertainment world, too, most notably when he let a film crew follow the creation of his New York Fashion Week show for 1995’s pre-reality TV movie “Unzipped” and helping bring up the next generation of designers as host of “Project Runway: All-Stars.”

But that impulse to perform never left him, and while he's done cabaret nights around the city before, he's preparing to take over the iconic Café Carlyle stage for a series of intimate shows called “Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?” beginning Jan. 31. Mizrahi will perform someof his most personally meaningful songs, from jazz standards to musicals, tell stories from his long career and give away random swag he's gotten in gift bags over the years to a few lucky audience members.

Mizrahi sees the 70-minute evening as less of a performance and more like hanging out in his living room at “the most obsessed afterparty in the world." It's an act he expects to change up a bit every night, because unlike theater where "you expect to sit like a nice person in the dark, in a cabaret people are drinking, they’re eating, they’re whooping it up. and so are you," he says. "I hope the show is both really satisfying and surprising, both to the audience and myself.”

Surprisingly for a man who’s spent much of his life in the spotlight, Mizrahi cops to feeling serious stage fright. Ironically though, it's part of the reason why he's doing the show. “My biggest fear is of boredom, it’s just the worst," he says. "So this is one way I can insure against it, is to keep doing things that terrify me.”

How’s that for inspiration?

While Mizrahi enjoys connecting with his audience, there’s one thing about fame in the modern world that he’s not completely comfortable with. “People taking my picture and tweeting it or Instagramming it — I don’t know why but I just don’t like that,” says Mizrahi, who like most of us does not wake up. “And I get it, sometimes I want to take pictures with whoever it is and tweet them, but every time I think, ‘Wait a minute, are you going to provide hair and makeup?’ I want final approval of a photograph.”

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