Staff Reporter

High-fashion aficionados may be mourning the departure of designer Isaac Mizrahi from the world's couture scene, but his absence is unlikely to cause much more than a ripple in local apparel circles.

Despite his outsized public persona and widespread name recognition, Mizrahi never was able to eke out much more than $20 million to $30 million in sales. The designer announced he was hanging up his hat after Chanel Inc. withdrew its financing from his firm.

"To paraphrase James Carville, 'It's the product stupid,'" said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the L.A.-based California Fashion Association. "You can promote and promote, but if the product doesn't interest the customer, it's not going to last."

Metchek said there won't be a lot of empty hangers to fill, because not many merchants carry his line. In fact, Mizrahi was only represented in about 10 stores nationwide most of them high-priced retailers, she said.

Locally, Mizrahi's fashions found their niche in the Beverly Hills stores of Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Saks has dismantled its year-old Mizrahi section, which was popular with customers despite the steep prices, said a company representative. That includes slacks that ran between $400 and $1,000.

Although Bloomingdale's does not carry Mizrahi clothes at its local Sherman Oaks or Century City stores, the line has proven successful for other units in the chain, especially in New York.

"It's very sad. Bloomingdale's was one of the first stores to carry his line," said Bonnie Brownlee, the chain's national media director. "We had his clothes in our window when he first came out 10 years ago. His sales did well for our company."

Unlike New York, California is known primarily for more casual, lifestyle clothing, which allows fashion devotees to write their own rules, rather than following the dictums of designers, Metchek said.

"Our image is sun, fun today it's hot, tomorrow it's cold. We're throwaway fashion," she said.

Mizrahi apparently has no intention of leaving the national stage. Having tasted stardom in the 1995 biographical documentary, "Unzipped," he has inked a deal with DreamWorks SKG to produce a movie and possible animated TV show based on his comic book series, "The Adventures of Sandee the Supermodel."

"He had a strong following in L.A. and has dressed many celebrities Kelly Lynch, Angelica Huston and Helen Hunt. His personality and drive and talent had a great synergy with L.A.," said Marin Hopper, fashion editor for Elle magazine. "It's good that he will continue to have a strong presence in L.A. It's a shame, though, that you won't be able to buy his clothes there."

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