Zachary E. “Zac” Posen is walking around his new atelier in the Upper East Side of New York, next block to the St. Regis Hotel or the newly opened, very chic, Polo Bar (where, by the way, he will have dinner later with some business friends and his boyfriend, Christopher Niquet). The spaces are extremely minimalist. On display all around one can see his latest collections, including the astonishing red dress that Naomi Campbell was wearing at the conclusion of Zac’s last show, in Grand Central Station in New York. The dress somehow has a material that reminds him of a Jeff Koons piece.
Zac Posen is smiling. He wears a three-piece suit in beige Cheviot, designed by him, a lilac button-down shirt and a knitted pale-blue tie by Brooks Brothers. We sit in his office. His desk, designed by him, is a black and green piece of marble with a rough cut, not too big, standing on a structure with wheels. Zac does not spend much time at his desk. He would rather go around his office atelier, switching from the creative rooms, where dresses are made and created, to the marketing, PR and business rooms.
Zac, what has changed in your life since you set up your first atelier in your parents’ living room in 2001?
A lot has changed. When I started I was very naïf and pure, my work was more theatrical. I did not understand how the actual fashion world worked. Now I am much more disciplined and confident. Now I know who I am, as a person and as a brand. I am more comfortable today, being myself rather than trying to fit in. From the business standpoint, I have learned my business.
Have you wanted to be the person you are now since you were a child?
As a child I wanted to be a performer, I trained as a singer, an actor, a dancer, and then it evolved and at 16 I started to work in the fashion district on 7th Avenue, and that got me hooked. I had very inspiring girlfriends who were wearing the clothes I was making in my high school time. I am thinking of Lola and Stella Schnabel, who were my muses and my inspiration.
Who did you admire as fashion designers?
Of course my first obsession was Madeleine Vionnet, the true first feminist of fashion, because she embraced the cut and construction of clothing to use movement and sensuality. It was not restricted to glamour. Then I would say I greatly admired Azzedine Alaia, and I was lucky to be able to research his work in the archives of a friend. 1997 was the height of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and the finale of Thierry Mugler’s haute couture. All these designers are very theatrical and I call them “imagineers”.
Did you go to University?
Yes, to St. Martins in London.
And when did you have your first success?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have many moments of success throughout my career but I’m still very hopeful that there will be many more to come. Having these hopes and dreams is part of what keeps you driven.
In 2012 you also became a TV star in the programme “Project Runway” on Lifetime TV?
I have always interacted with the media, it was part of my desire when I started working in fashion. There was a concern that to be taken seriously you could not be on TV, so I am happy I did not go on TV at age 21. Once I turned 30 I was ready, and “Project Runway” is having its best ratings and I’m very proud that “Project Runway” is now Lifetime’s number 1 cable network in its Thursday time period with Women.
What does it give you to be on TV?
It gives me a direct voice to the consumer, and it gives the public an emotion behind the person, and one can teach them about fashion. Just in America the programme has millions of viewers per episode. Therefore it gives an experience, so that partners, licensing partners, feel that there is broad enough recognition to grow their business. This is what it takes to build a fashion business globally in today’s world, and this is what it takes to sell enough clothing to support my creativity.
What kind of designer do you think you are?
I think I am most known for modern glamour, contemporary romanticism, and in America my role is to continue a great tradition of social dressing.
Yes, and I would say that there is a sexiness to the cut and construction. This is what balances the clothes away from being aged and makes them interesting for women to wear. I am not interested in trend, because fashion has become so expensive I am interested in timeless clothing. There is a sense of classicism. I design the full range, 9 to 5, and then from 5 to midnight.
How would you define luxury?
To me luxury today is defined by rarity. The consumer is getting ever more educated over the Internet, so it becomes more challenging and more expensive for the luxury groups to justify their prices. Keeping our top line with exclusive distribution, and taking our time to grow, made all the other products that actually make the money more valuable.
Recently you also became the creative director for the Brooks Brothers women’s brand?
Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothier of the US, iconically tied to the way American businessmen are dressed, and their wives. It is the American Classic look. For me at this stage it was important to take the challenge to work with a brand that has its own stores worldwide, and also to prove to myself and to the industry that I can make sportswear.
How is it going?
Very well, and tomorrow we style our first collection. It is shoes, bags, scarfs, shirting, outerwear, jewellery, hats, a full world. And this is the beginning.
Is this in competition with brands like J.Crew or Ralph Lauren?
Sure. These are lifestyle brands, and they all look to the original style brand which is Brooks Brothers. They are all going for that chic, classic, American sportswear look.
Is Naomi Campbell your icon?
She has been with me since very early in my career, she is family. There are many other women in my life. They all bring different qualities to the brand.
Is Michelle Obama one of your women?
Yes, and Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman. I also have some very private clients that we never name, for their own discretion.
Who are your clients?
50% across America, and 50% all around the world, in the Middle East, Asia, Europe.
What kind of woman do you dress?
A creative, glamorous woman, somebody that is comfortable with her femininity, and for me those things are not defined by age, body shape or race. I like real bodies, and I am not turned on by over skinny, unhealthy bodies.
How is business going?
Good, very solid. On collection we sell what we make, and the secondary line is growing by double every year and our licensing partners are very happy.
Do you work most of the time?
Wonderfully I am in a relationship with someone who is the creative director and the stylist of the company. I started the company as a family business and feel very lucky that I have such a close relationship with my family, and feel very grateful to have such a great working relationship and trust with my professional and personal partner. I have a great dialogue and relationship with my management in my company, which is key to success. Art and commerce work together.
Are you a happy man?
Yes, I am happy that I am able to create every day, to collaborate with my employees, to be a positive voice about creativity on TV, to have a wonderful relationship with my partner and my family, to eat great food and live in New York.
Do you cook well?
Yes, I love it, and one day I may write a book, like “#CookingwithZac”.
How can you keep so thin?
I eat whatever I want, but basically I drink no alcohol and that saved me. For lunch I eat every day chicken soup and salad, at breakfast coffee, one egg and orange juice, at dinner whatever I want. However, at home I mostly cook vegetarian, because my partner is vegetarian.
You have three dogs?
I had a poodle named Tina Turner, my boyfriend had a dachshund, and then together we got a third dog, a baby dachshund. It is important, very important, to have a life outside of fashion, a normal life, even if I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Why are you so happy to be a New Yorker?
Because I am able to interact with so many interesting people from different disciplines who are here to make it happen. I flourish off the ambition of New York City. I would love to live in other places at some point of my life, you never know, but now I am happy to be here. Since I was young I had been offered opportunities to work in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, but it was not the right time and I wanted to build my brand for myself. Between the different brands, I am currently overseeing 16 separate seasons of clothing collections a year plus fur, handbags, eyewear, fine jewelry, and hosiery.
So you never rest?
Yes, I read, I go to the theatre, to the opera, and I go to the movies all the time. But if I really want to have relief I go to my parents’ vegetable garden. The best place for me is nature and to be in a garden. I don’t go to the gym, it is not relaxing, but I am dancing around all day and that is my way to stay fit.
April 1st, 2015
Lifetime TV show Project Runway
Images used by kind permission and copyright Zac Posen.