Acclaimed actress, best-selling author and disability advocate, Selma Blair is teaming up with renowned fashion designer, Isaac Mizrahi, to launch a line of accessible fashion on QVC. Blair, who has been actively working to build awareness about MS since her own revelation in 2018, is bringing her advocacy to stylish apparel. This new collaboration brings together Mizrahi’s creative vision with Blair’s experience, as well as that of the disability community, to create beautiful, adaptive clothing that’s also easy to maintain.
In a virtual interview with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Paul Pelland, the man behind Million Miles for MS, Blair and Mizrahi share their passion for adaptive fashion and how they came to collaborate on QVC. Blair also discusses her experience with MS and how that intersects with fashion.
Chet Cooper: Before we get started, I want to introduce you to Long Haul Paul. Paul also has MS, but his challenge has been raising funds and awareness for MS. He’s riding a motorcycle for a million miles. I know, it’s shocking. He’s already won numerous awards for what he’s been able to do.
Selma Blair: My gosh, congratulations! That’s really scary. What if you have rainy days? Do you do it every day? I know, sorry, I got off-topic, but that’s so amazing. Do you do it every day, rain or shine?
Paul Pelland: I do. This weekend I was in—uh, where was I? South Carolina. I rode home through that little hurricane or whatever it was that was on the East Coast.
Blair: Were you kind of frightened at all? I really like hearing about people’s insecurities. (laughter) Sorry, sorry, don’t worry, off-topic!
Pelland: I’m afraid to drive a car. I don’t really have the fear of motorcycling. I ride so much. To me it’s just second nature. I do feel safer on a motorcycle than I do in a car. I just don’t spend as much time in a car.
Isaac Mizrahi: That’s amazing. I feel not safe in a car, too. Maybe I should try a motorcycle. I once was on the back of a motorcycle with this gorgeous French guy I dated. (laughter) Holding this gorgeous guy made me feel very secure in the back.
Blair: That’s what I’m here for.
Cooper: If you want to read some stories about Paul, he’s been writing a column, writing not riding, a column in the magazine for—it’s been a decade now, probably, at least, Paul?
Pelland: No, I think it’s only been ten years. (laughter)
Cooper: While we have everybody together, tell us about the origin of how you two came together to create the line and do what you’re doing now with adaptive clothing and QVC?
Blair: I’m going to start. Obviously, I know and think Isaac is the great American designer. I’ve been in love with him since back in the House of Style days, where I had little bit parts, and he was always the goal. It was always just a fan thing. And then when I got to know Isaac years ago when he had the show and I was acting and at premiers, I was lucky enough to have my most favorite dresses made by Isaac. One was an incredible pink and orange color blocking. It was so gorgeous, so memorable to me. After I was diagnosed and realized I was having a lot of problems at the time with my dexterity, lifting my hands, getting clothes on. I had just gone back to work, and the seamstresses, everyone, had to dress me every day for work, which is not something I was used to. It was just too hard to even get my foot in things. It was a very different experience for me.
There were only very few clothes I could find that didn’t cause me to have a breakdown in the morning, of exhaustion and sweating, just trying to figure out something that was simple to me. I ran into Isaac at a beautiful cocktail hour somewhere. I said, “God, one day, maybe we could do something together.” I just love Isaac so much! He knows this, that I get too excited.
And now it’s happened. It’s been in my mind and heart to raise this visibility in the fashion space. Now that I know better, I can do better and disrupt in ways that make me happy for the people I hear from in the disability community, or otherwise, how to make things easier. And Isaac already had this amazing setup at QVC.
Cooper: Isaac, did you know about this before, that Selma had this love of your fashion sense?
Mizrahi: I have to say, she’s kind of coming at me going, “Oh, I always looked at him and thought wow, wow, wow!” And I, in reverse, always looked at her and thought that she was kind of a style icon. And when I got a chance to dress her, it was a kind of a goal, like a moment for me. And then we saw each other at Majorelle, which is a really famous—Selma, I think you were staying in that hotel?— And we saw each other, and she expressed this interest. The thing about my brand is that more than anything over the years, if you’ve studied, if you look at it, it’s really about the kind of democratization, this outreach to all kinds of different communities. And QVC, I always felt, was such an incredible vehicle. Not only are they accessible, not only do they make things that are usually incredibly well-priced and very accessible in that way, but also there is more communication with QVC than I think any other outlet. You call into QVC and you talk to the people on air.
Blair: It’s instant feedback. If they didn’t understand any of the adaptable features, and they’re like, “What is that? Why did they do that?” It’s immediately a great kind of feedback.
Mizrahi: That’s what drew me and that’s what drew us together to try to get this collaboration to occur.
Cooper: This is off-topic just because I’m staring at it so much (seeing her guitar in the background). Do you ever play music together? I see a guitar and a piano.
Blair: That’s so funny. I need to. I’m learning. My neurologist said I need to learn an instrument because I’ve been forgetting, like, I have little ulcers in my ears. She said immediately, “You have to start piano.” I’ve never touched a piano except to play “Chariots of Fire” in third grade because a neighbor taught me. And if you don’t think I get on a piano every time and play “Chariots of Fire,” that’s way off. But no, I need to. Maybe Isaac can.
Mizrahi: I know some incredible musicians, and our failings as musicians will be filled in by them.
Blair: You’re not. You’re a piano player!
Mizrahi: I know, but I don’t play, I only sing. I play in private, but I sing in public. You and I could get together, you could play the piano.
Blair: Thank you. I’ll have this as a goal. I mean, everything’s been changing. There’s so much I realize now about neurology and making things easier in life. Music is a goal.
Cooper: Nice. One of the things that I think Paul will ask is if you can design something for motorcycle wearing. (laughs)
Mizrahi: Aside from a motorcycle jacket, which is something I’m always riffing on. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, iconic, world—I was going to say American, but I think throughout the world a motorcycle jacket is an aspiration.
Blair: Great fashion, sexy. There are already accessible. You did motorcycle pants with the padding and all that. When I was falling a lot, those were things I was wearing. It’s not in this particular collection or something I’ve heard people want, but it was for me. I needed that. I went through periods, temporarily, where my balance was so off, I was falling everywhere and bruising. I asked my son’s father, who rides motorcycles, “Let me see those! Tailor them to me.” He makes clothes. So, there are so many things I find out in this process, through myself or through people with more radical disabilities, just the whole community that’s lived it so long, learning what they need. This is a really rewarding process.
Cooper: Do you have any issues with your body temperature?
Blair: Oh, yes, I do. That’s another reason—Not to get back to about things we were talking about—I overheat so much. It’s much worse in actual sunshine rather than in just heat. I can endure heat more than I can handle ultraviolet rays, and then I get the dystonia, really horrifically. But I do get overheated. When I do, I have to sometimes, honestly, rip my clothes off, like how they did it for Errol Flynn in the studios when he’d get so drunk and pass out. His clothes were like breakaway. You know that, Isaac, right? Errol Flynn’s clothes were all breakaway because he was so drunk at the end of the night, the wardrobers had to get them off? It’s like these features, this shirt is one of Isaac’s. The buttons are all magnetic. I won’t do like “Magic Mike Show”. (laughter) It’s super sexy.
It’s magnetic because that was one of my problems. And some clothes, if there was something like this, look a little infantile. I love that these clothes have more adaptable, accessible features and also can come off really quickly. Because when I need to disrobe or clean up or do something, you don’t have to be disabled to feel like you need things more stress-free. This is one of my favorite shirts and it does help. These things all have that in mind to cover that. I do get the sun effects. I lose speech and movement.
Cooper: Paul could speak to that about his clothing because of the regulation of his body temperature.
Blair: I wear Polar products. Do you ever wear an ice vest? You might want to when you’re riding. I wear an ice vest when I get on my horse. I bring a packet. It’s Polar products.
Pelland: Yeah, I’ve had different vests over the years. I’ve even had one of the first tests from a prototype that was basically pumping full of water.
Blair: I’ve used that on movies when we’re overheating in extensive wardrobe. It has a coil system for heating and for cooling. You have to be close to a like a power source to get it going.
Pelland: We melted the alternator with one of those, but the heatness worked really well.
Blair: Exactly. It can get really cumbersome trying to make things work for us. I’ve found the ice packs are the most practical. When the packs warm up, you can just put a new set in the pocket so it doesn’t have as much equipment. But it is a problem with a lot of people, these temperature changes. And now—menopause, boys! (laughter) So there’s that on top of it. There’s always some form of needing a little extra care. You’re lucky enough to get over it.
Pelland: I’ve found that driving faster helps, too. (laughs)
Blair: Haha! I bet!
Pelland: That’s my excuse to drive fast.
Blair: I get it, I know. There are things people don’t think of and don’t think of how clothes and different things make such a huge difference, truly, in allowing you to have more scenes in a day, as they say, in that scene theory thing.
Mizrahi: Apropos of what we’re doing, I think great clothes should be accessible.
Blair: That’s right. I do have very expensive taste, but I would only buy a few things, and they last for 20 years. And then as I started evolving into this grown woman and had some different needs, then I also said, “Oh God, these things that I cherish, I’m ruining.” or I can’t put it in the washer or things like that. There really was such an answer already there with Isaac and QVC, at least in the sensory and the comfort in the washable and in the price point for quality. It really answered the need for me. And also wanting to have this chic, feel like I’m being dressed by a designer, which it is, with Isaac and have some really chic, more accessible pieces for more people. I don’t know where I went. I just kept talking. Sorry.
Mizrahi: You were absolutely saying what I was thinking, which is that the style is really important to everybody. If you have a pulse, you like the idea. Now, like with Selma, we’ve collaborated. And of course, if you want to know more about the actual accessibility things, we can speak about a few of them.
Cooper: Can we go there now? That was going to be the next question. Can you talk about that?
Mizrahi: I was thinking about, like, magnets.
Blair: For example, of course, one of the more obvious ones is getting on a shirt. You know how long it can take, maybe, if you have a prosthetic or arthritis or older, in a rush, whatever. But to have the magnetic buttons that are also washable, that there’s things that have been sourced with this technology to bring things to be chic and to be for anyone.
And the first that I’ve seen I know there must be but the seated pants for wheelchair users. There’s a standing version and then some have the seated version. I have the seated version, which has so many design features like you could actually sit on it. There are no pockets on the bottom. They’re not just a standing jean that you’re putting on. So, they have a higher rise in the back for being seated. What else?
Mizrahi: There’s a long zip or pull. Also loops that help you pull them on from a longer distance. You don’t have to go all the way down. You can pull the pants on easier. There are all kinds of little functioning things that were researched.
Blair: And one of the models, Alex, whom I become friends with, who’s so great at QVC, she is a wheelchair user. Even then it was so helpful, things that people don’t tell you, there’s not a roadmap, like, “Oh, wait, these have to be in the back so I could maybe fit it and seat myself.” So it’s inside. We’re learning as we go. It’s incredible. I get such grateful feedback from people. “This is a dream come true. Someone’s asking me how can I get my pants on more easily with limited mobility?” That is the most rewarding thing, when they’re going, “Of course, right, right! Putting it on yourself!”
And for caregivers. When my mom became more fragile and couldn’t walk as she got older, caregivers, dressing people. We don’t think of how hard this is for us, to get things on and off other people. I’m really proud that there are these beautiful pieces that I legitimately wear and love. And they’re made with so many more people in mind. Other features, wider legs, bottoms shorter, allowing for any differences or maybe prosthetics, things that are easier, catching on things, wider bottoms to legs options.
Pockets on the front of the legs for the seated pants, so there’s somewhere, some accessible place. It won’t be the same as finding a pocket when you’re sitting on it. It’s just different thoughtful things.
Cooper: Is this women or both women and men?
Mizrahi: Right now it’s just women.
Blair: But if you tune into the QVC and want to be a male customer, you know, you’ll start making a petition.
Cooper: (laughs) I ride motorcycles as well. I’m waiting for that jacket.
Pelland: The materials you use would be helpful for someone, whether it’s a washing issue or ironing, heat would dissipate through.
Mizrahi: You’d be surprised how widespread that idea is. The easier it is to care for something, usually, I think the more it’s pleasing to the end user. We are hopefully applying some of the things that we already know to that. But of course, here and there, like Selma was saying, some of the blends that we use, some of the natural fibers that we use are more adaptable to temperature and to those kinds of uses like washing, like you said
Blair: Now I’m so grateful. It was really helpful. I didn’t have any washable stuff in my wardrobe before besides denim and t-shirts. I just didn’t have washable things, unless they were hand washed. But everything was cracking. It was just too much.
Mizrahi: I think that would have been so expensive
Blair: They became too precious, and then you don’t love the pieces because you’re not seeing them and wearing them. So, to have a little riff on a Chanel jacket that I love, and to have these in the collection with color, and to be able to also go, “Oh, this could just be washed here.” It’s great. It’s great for the plane. It’s great for me, for everything. I didn’t really think of clothes like that before because I didn’t need to. Now it’s the only thing that I do because I really do care about ease of use and being able to wash things with traveling and not wanting to pack too much stuff. I like to keep things the tight ship. And one of my favorites I have is an oversized, poplin shirt that has pockets in the side of the actual shirt. I’m just finding; we’re seeing as we go, but I’m always finding. Because my hands have sometimes a bit of dystonia, will flail around, and I like to sometimes remember to keep them quiet and just have them in a pocket, but not some big jacket all the time. There are just things that I’m really excited about that I’ve found to really help me throughout my day feel more comfortable.
Cooper: A little bit off-track here, but not really. The models you mentioned, you said Alex? How many models are you using that have different disabilities?
Blair: The most important was the wheelchair user because that’s something I have no experience with. It’s just a very new thing to design those things. But I don’t know. I know QVC has a roster of everyone. I have a friend who was in a car accident and lost her arm, so I can find out things just through my own friends.
Mizrahi: When we present on QVC in any particular hour or two-hour period, there’s usually two or three models, so I’m guessing—in the publicity we did there was one, but I’m pretty sure on the show there will be maybe two.
Blair: There’s some size, inclusivity and things that aren’t always on the mainstream marketplace as much. You really see it on the people. What I thought was interesting about QVC, in the pictures we take, you don’t alter your clothes like you do in a normal photo shoot, so they can really see what they’re getting. I was like, “Oh, my God!” That’s terrifying!
Mizrahi: It comes from the factory, it doesn’t come from the sampling. It’s actually the merchandise. That’s the great thing. That was the actual thing that you’re going to buy. It comes from the top of the inventory.
Blair: I’m just not used to being a shorter person. I’m not used to just getting to put on clothes. How they look in the actual thing, for better or for worse, or if there’s a certain thing, you can really see that on QVC. It’s so cool. Like, oh, that’s a regular person, and they didn’t pin it and all these things. You guys don’t know, you know motorcycles. But when we’re on shoot, I have clothes pins in my back and stuff because they’re just made for someone else. But these are real transparent at QVC.
Cooper: Is the Q-ball for spasms?
Blair: It is. I hold something so that I’m aware of my hand because I don’t have proprioception. If I’m concentrating on something else, my arms will go away and it’s having something to hold onto.
Cooper: I thought you would ask it a question.
Blair: It can get really distracting. I just happen to like an eight-ball. I was in a movie with Nicholas Cage, and it just wound up being one of those things, that I wound up always holding something.
Cooper: I think it’s a cool little hack, if you will. If you go the other way it’s infinity.
Blair: Exactly! I love it! It’s my number. I mean, don’t try to call it, you won’t reach me.
Cooper: (laughs) I called and it was busy! Before we go, I wanted to share with you a bit about the magazine. That’s who you’re talking to right now. On our home page, we have Reels from people saying, “You can find me on abilityE.” abilityEntertainment is a place where you tell your friends who might have disabilities that if they want to get into the entertainment industry, which includes modeling, QVC, if you will, this is a resource with thousands of people.
Blair: This is incredible. I was looking at it, I hadn’t done a real dive into your site. I’m so happy now. This is the most incredible thing. I was always wondering if something like this was done. I’m amazed at what a resource this is.
Cooper: This happened because Netflix came to us, trying to find a talent. We used our resources.
Blair: It’s incredible. Anything that can reduce stigma and have people understand in general the things they don’t and how to find the people they don’t see every day in their community, which is the way our world is built, is just a godsend.
Cooper: Thank you for stepping up to doing what you’re doing.
Blair: And people have really stepped up, QVC and Isaac, to have this caliber of collaboration, to have this support is hugely meaningful to friends of mine in the disability community and just to people in general to know that this is another option.
Mizrahi: It is our opportunity, really. That’s how we see it. We enjoy the idea of being included in this conversation and being in your life, really.
Cooper: As we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to share?
Blair: I love this experience. I love this collection for people. It’s everything that I’ve fallen in love with in the last few years, brighter, a different vibe. I’m typically always at home in a uniform of black and white always. I’ve saved everything else for occasions, But now that my wardrobe is filled with these colors, and I go out, it really does set a whole different tone for me out and about. I wanted to thank you, Isaac because I get some love. I get to share this also accessible, there are points that are really different. It’s honestly exciting. I’m really over the moon that it’s coming.
Mizrahi: Everything she said. (laughs) I really feel lucky and blessed to be a part of this and to be in people’s lives. It’s the greatest opportunity. Thank you.
Selma is also a best selling author
Here book “Mean Baby” was racked up it’s share of praised:
“Elegantly expressed… Evocative… This generous, moving book… roams intuitively, assuredly, between past and present… For years Blair looked to astrologers, mediums, and healers to tell her story… She herself is the right person.”
Susan Burton, The New York Times
“Blair engages with her MS starkly and movingly…[She] puts it all out there.”
“Selma Blair is not afraid to go there when it comes to sharing the ups and downs of her personal life — particularly in the wake of her 2018 Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis — but never before has she shared such shocking details from her past.”
Joanne Kaufman, The Wall Street Journal
Kara Warner, People Magazine
“In “Mean Baby”, an intensely self-aware and cheerfully self-revealing Blair explores the abundant darkness arising from her fraught relationships with her mother, men, alcohol and, ultimately, multiple sclerosis. In different hands, this might make for a more painful read. But throughout her breezy narrative, Blair’s wry humor and her chatty, confiding tone make you feel that you’re spending 300 pages with a smart and, yes, slightly bratty new friend… Blair’s memoir…is funny and frank, a chance to spend time with a brave and big-hearted woman who’s grown up to be not so mean, after all.”
Jennifer LaRue, The Washington Post
“A beautiful tale about how this person learned to love a new version of herself.”
Rachel Martin, NPR’s Morning Edition
I’m not sure how to harness my meandering thoughts into words and sentences that make sense. So I’ll start with what I know.
We are all in search of a story that explains who we are.
As Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” We are made not only by the stories we tell ourselves but by the tales of others the stories they tell us, and the stories they tell about us.
The first story I was told about myself other than the one about how my mother watched as the doctor pulled me out from her insides is that I was a mean, mean baby.
I came into this world with my mouth pulled into a perpetual snarl. I was born with a glower, my face defined by a heavy brow that adults coveted. But on a child and infant, no less my face looked judgmental, scrutinizing. No one knew quite what to make of it.
When I arrived home from the hospital, only one of my three sisters, Katie, who was five, was waiting in our driveway. Mimi, aged twelve, and Lizzie, almost two, were elsewhere. Katie rushed out to meet me, my mother holding me on her lap. Katie asked if I was a baby doll for her. No, I wasn’t, my expression said. A few days later, some of the neighborhood kids came over to meet the new Beitner child. Within minutes, they left screaming, warning any-one who would listen, “Do not go over there. The Beitners have a mean baby.” Can you imagine! Have you ever heard an infant described in this way? What could I have done? I was just days old! An infant with a snarl. I only wanted someone to pick me up, I think. Or put me down! But instead they all went and gossiped. From the very beginning, I was misunderstood.
Nevertheless, the label stuck, as labels are wont to do. What people call you does matter. The words we use hold weight. We say this sometimes, as lip service, but it’s true. It’s like having a sticker affixed to your back that the rest of the world can read but you can’t. Before I could even speak, I was told who and what I was. I was mean.
In my defense, I did not have a proper name for the first few years of my life. My birth certificate reads, simply, “Baby Girl Beitner.” In babyhood, I was given the nickname Baby Bear. My mom said they called me Bear because I had such a furry head that they would have to rub it to make way for my forehead. (I used to feel bad about this bit of my history, until I read that Rene Russo was born with the same affliction.)
Eventually, my family started calling me Blair after Blair Moody, my mother told me. A U.S. senator and circuit court judge from Michigan whom she admired. This was funny, because I was so moody. (To this I say: Be careful what you name your kid!) I remember being a Blair, because they would all spell it out when-ever they talked about me, as though I wouldn’t piece it together. “B- L- A- I- R was mean,” or “B- L- A- I- R wants to come.”
This continued until I was three, when I went to preschool and needed a legal name. My mother decided to name me Selma, after her much-adored friend who died around the time I was born. In the Jewish tradition, babies are never named after a living person, and this seemed like a fitting tribute. The other names in contention were Ethel, Gretel which I would have liked Marta, Martha, and Gwyneth. (Gwyneth! To think, I could have been one, too!) There came a point where I loudly proclaimed, “When am I going to get one of those names?” referring to my sisters’ nick-names of Ducky, Precious, and Princess. I wanted a pretty name. But it was not to be. From this point forward, I was Selma Blaire Bear Beitner, though my mother eventually removed the e from “Blaire,” because she said it was “too pretentious.” And there you have it.
For my entire life, I have been both. Selma and Blair. My two names would come to define me, as much as the stories around them.
As a child, I never took to the name Selma. It seemed to me an old lady’s name, not a name befitting a little girl. When given a choice, I always asked to be called Blair, but I got a real boatload of “Selma” in elementary school. Whenever the teacher did roll call, I was too shy to ask, “Can you call me Blair?” So all day long I was Selma, or Bat Sheva, the Hebrew name used by the teachers at my Jewish day school, and at home I was Blair. Mom was always sorry I didn’t like Selma. A feminine of Saint Anselm, the Benedictine monk. Or a reference to Selma, Alabama. It was a good name, she often reminded me.
When I was five years old, Mom, Dad, and I went on a weekend trip where I struck up a friendship with a family with a baby. As we lounged poolside, the mother asked my name, and I casually replied that it was Lisa a nice, normal name. As Lisa, I played with that baby for three hours, helping her navigate the hotel pool in her floaties. When the afternoon sun sank low in the sky, the woman approached my mother and told her that her daughter Lisa had been so helpful.
“Lisa!” My mother let out a wail. “Her name’s not Lisa! What a crock! What a liar!”
The woman looked at me as though she were seeing me for the first time. My lovely afternoon had been erased. I was no longer Lisa, and now I was a liar as well.
My mother nicknamed me Saintly, but it was tongue in cheek. I was no saint. I could sometimes be saintly to my mother, but to everyone else I was a mean baby.
Growing up, I shared a bedroom with my sister Lizzie, since we were closest in age. Our parents let us choose the wallpaper, and since Lizzie didn’t care, I picked a pattern with little pink and blue flowers floating against white. I chose it because it looked similar to what Jessica Lange describes as her childhood wallpaper in the movie Tootsie. Movies, even then, were what gave me ideas and hope.
Our room had two twin beds and those vinyl shades you needed to tug in order to pull them up or down. Every morning, I got out of bed very, very quickly. I had never been one to linger. (Can you believe it?) I rushed to pull the shade down, so it would snap to attention and rip-roll up loudly, sending the diffused morning sun straight into Lizzie’s eyes.
“Yehi or!” I’d yell at the top of my lungs, quoting from the first lines of Genesis, the Hebrew words for “Let there be light!”
“Blair!” she would croak, rubbing her eyes. “Why do you do this?”
Next I made my way around the room, throwing open the door, turning on the television atop Mom’s childhood maple dresser, her mother’s before her, and flicking on the lights. I needed life, immediately. I needed every bit of everything, every bit of help, anything I could reach in order to cheerlead myself into embracing my day. Even then, I did this.
This was how our days began. I made Lizzie crazy. But she put up with me. Every night, we said good night back and forth until one of us fell asleep. She was always there with me.
Excerpted from "Mean Baby" by Selma Blair. Copyright © 2022 by Selma Blair. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.