Zac Posen launched his eponymous collection in 2001, with a vision for modern American glamour that married couture technique with striking innovation. His collections have grown to include Zac Posen, ZAC Zac Posen and Z Spoke Zac Posen with offerings in handbags, accessories, eyewear and fur. Zac entered the bridal space with the launch of Truly Zac Posen in partnership with David’s Bridal and Kenmark Optical, will see eyewear arriving in stores in September 2014. He has served as judge with Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia on Lifetime’s mainstay Project Runway, in its thirteenth season. In keeping with Zac’s commitment to mentorship in design, he has developed the Zac Posen Scholarship for Fashion Design at The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. His designs have been worn by leading women, including First Lady Michelle Obama, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Naomi Watts.
1. There are so many places designers find inspirations. What are some of your favorite resources?
When I’m designing for a collection, we start with the fabrics. The material tells you where you can take a collection. And then the other places I find inspiration is from Mother nature. Fabric & then color. Color is like a filter. It can change emotion and context. Color is totally peripheral. Color almost overrides form and shape. Color can just determine mood and find out how people react to a piece of clothing.
2. I’ve always loved your designs – they appear to be feminine & lady like but still empower women. Is that intentional?
Absolutely! 100%! For me, at this stage, it is almost engrained. When we are building collections, I almost have to keep a very, sort of, instinctual eye to know how a theme or a shape changes how a person can feel in a piece of clothing I’m interested in bringing out creativity; and hoping to supply that to women who know they have that inner creativity and to be able to empower women to find it through the power of dress. Finding this inner confidence is absolutely essential.
3.Where does it come from?
I think from having a good mother, an amazing sister, and great girlfriends my whole life. I’ve never seen women or humanity differently. I think everyone has something very special to give to the world. It sounds too kumbaya, but I believe that. I think the reason why I was drawn to glamour and things that looked like 1930s clothing or 1940s clothing is because I think when film and Hollywood became talkies, when people started speaking on film is really when you see women portrayed in a mass culture as a strong female archetype. These women who were created in this commercial system in early Hollywood were also paving the way for women to self identify, to create identities for themselves and their personalities expressed. The clothing created at that time definitely gave a sense of power and confidence and femininity; and celebrating femininity through their personality, character, and loving the body I think it’s so important for women to embrace their shape and celebrate it. When I go back to nature everything is different, and every body is different. That’s what makes the world exciting. It gives me inspiration that every body is different. You have to have that confidence to not listen too much to the commercial powers that tell us they are not.
4. You’ve been hailed as couturier Charles James’ heir. Seriously, Dita von Teese’s dress at the Met Ball 2014, was the best dress hands down! What do you think you have in common with Charles James?
Thank you! What I think I have in common with Charles James is what I call emotional engineering. It’s something where when I have fabric and I am building a collection, I do not start personally with sketching it. I start with tracing fabric on a living body or a mannequin. When you do that you find ways to construct the clothing that are three-dimensional. It’s like painting. You find the line on the body. I think that is how Charles James thought about cutting clothing. Highlighting the body is just something that I naturally worked over the years and still continually try to perfect and achieve. I think that’s one component. The other 2 parts is a great love of glamour and sculptural fashion; and how sculptural fashion can actually be enhancing and flattering to the body.
5. Some people call it “stiff”, but it does have a movement although it’s sculptural.
There is movement in the clothing, whether in bulk movement or controlled, structured movement. And glamour, a great love and celebration within fashion. I think those components are there, whether with big ball gowns or work with seam lines. I think there’s something with a real love of features, a real love with the human body and female character. That’s what I see. When I see his clothing I think they are great masks, great portraiture masks for these great women he made clothing for, because each one is so reflective of a character or personality; and at the exhibition, there is no space or body in them just floating dresses. They all seem like they can talk to each other.
6. You don’t only do ball gowns because what I love is the amount of detail in terms of design that goes into the ZAC Zac Posen collection.
It’s important to bring the highest quality product. Made in the USA, which is really important to me on all my lines that we do in my company. I think if you want to give the best to the customers you can’t ever fake the customer, especially today. The customer, the woman, and girl are so educated. Especially with the Internet and all the communication. People know what’s up.
7. Yes, they can see when there’s authenticity or when it’s fake.
They totally do, which is a positive part about social media. They are very educated and you have people becoming experts just by their rapport on Instagram, online, or bloggers. What’s key is that I always want to push and try to give the highest quality product with real design integrity at any price point, because it’s possible.
8. I love your choice of models, from Coco Rocha, Crystal Renn, Erin O’Connor and Karen Elson. They are like modern day swans on their own. How important are they to your design process?
Thank you! I work with my boyfriend Christopher. The models, as a collective, are the muses and I see a relationship when I am working with the model and believe in them. It’s a full on collaboration. When I book a model to work with it’s someone I want to have dinner with or have in my family when I’m older, because they are real people. I’ve learned so much from working with Crystal, Erin and Karen over the years. Karen I met when I was 16 years old. I was making clothing for her then when I was an intern at Nicole Miller at 16. The business started from the models wearing my clothing. So I think it started that way and formed archetypes. We choose women and models who are passionate about the industry and about fashion. I’m never interested in who’s the trendy girl of the season. I could care less about what someone else tells me what is sexy now, what is attractive, because it is important to designers who celebrate the diversity of women, from body shape to race to character to age. It’s like having a beautiful bouquet. I understand why a lot of designers are doing a runway show and every model looks exactly the same. I understand why that’s easy for the human eye to accept it like looking at a Lenny Reifenstahl film where everything is repetition, but that is not what is beautiful to me. There’s more nuance in showing a point of view in the collection on different types of women. There are lots of women in the world who look at the clothing and feel like they relate to different parts of the brand.
9. I love what you said about all models with a different race and body shapes and also different ages because truly someone who is stylish comes in all different types of ages. Anna Cleveland for example. Tell me how did you meet?
Such a joy! I met Anna at a Steven Burrough’s party. I saw her and her mom (Pat Cleveland) from across the room. It was like a West Side Story moment. We saw each other, liked each other, and then she showed up at a casting with her mom. She was 13, a little too young, but she had it. A few years later Christopher had been shooting with her. We called her and brought her back in our world about 5 years ago. She had IT. That’s for sure. I am drawn to people with quality. That is my only personal criteria. I’m drawn to people who have potential for or have star quality and don’t know it. She had it in spades. It became a 5-year process of nurturing her and working with her and being inspired by her. When we started working with her the fashion industry told us we were crazy, “Who’s that person who moves differently on the runway?” I heard all kinds of strange feedback from the industry; and slowly over time, and like a great star happens, they fall in love. And through Instagram and seeing that this is something authentic and her own magic separates her from her mom. She went to Paris to do couture and all the shows and they love her. That part is like her mom in that she worked in America and went to Europe to get it.
10. What are 3 items that would update a woman’s wardrobe this fall?
I think a great coat because it is your shield against the world. This is what you wear everyday. A great camel or black coat, nothing too tight on the body. Something you can move in. Immediately, I think of jewelry always as great addition to anything and accessorizing. The next thing is a staple that every woman should have is the perfect dress. I don’t mean a black dress, because that’s easy. The perfect dress that works on them. I think that’s something people can save for and invest. It’s like when I make my suits. They keep me in check in being healthy.
11. You’re so busy. How do you fit in Project Runway in your hectic schedule?
I have learned over the years to know when and where my hands are needed in the different processes of projects. I know when not to go into the studio and sit on it like I’m incubating an egg. I can let it sit on its own with my team and know when I need to correct it. You learn the process and the key is trust. You have to trust your team and have great communication and treat them like a family too. Then they will go above and beyond to execute and work with you collaboratively with your vision. I am also able to work with my partner. He works with me and is a 2nd set of eyes and comments on the work we do together. The other key thing is having a great president. The president of my company changed my life. Her name is Jillian Sinel. Once you find the right partner, you can be really strategic and know everything is in the right direction. You have a common goal of where you are getting to. Project Runway is where I get my performance time. I wanted to be a singer, dancer, and actor throughout my childhood. I waited a long time until I was in my 30s to go on TV and I think it was the right choice. When I started my company in 2001, people wanted to film my family and me and do reality TV shows like the Kardashians. I kept saying no. I didn’t let anyone do documentary stuff in my studio. I was pretty protective of the creative process. I was asked to be on Project Runway many times over the years in case Michael Kors didn’t want to do it and even while they were conceiving the show. It felt very full circle now in my 3rd season. The show is a big hit again and a success. I learned that the 1st season I was too sensitive to the designers. In the 2nd season, I was told that for entertainment purposes they needed more funny lines. So I started writing more funny lines and the jokes while I’m there. I love it! I love being on set. I’m working with Heidi Klum, who is like an energizer. She is phenomenal! I learned a lot from her especially multitasking.
12. Talking about strategically doing things with your president, Jillian, the Zac Posen Bridal Collection is genius!
I waited to do bridal until I had I had a company to work with that would make the dresses the most price accessible with my hand in quality in it and with the size range. We go up to size 32. I waited until I had the right partner to do it with and David’s Bridal came in. That process is incredible because I am able to go into the fitting room and change every contraption. I chop up the dresses like crazy and re-sew them back together like a surgeon; and then they go off to get manufactured and sized. It’s an incredible business. It’s the one opportunity that most women outside of fashion or the most normal women in the world get to wear a gown and that’s on their wedding. I wanted to be able to provide something that was tasteful, elegant, and romantic and celebrate these different sizes & shapes of women. It’s a bridal collection that loves curves and doesn’t try to hide them.
13. Let’s talk about your cooking skills. Have you always been such a good cook?
I love to cook. I started baking when I was young. In the same way I make my gowns, I would make cakes, very elaborate where I would learn how to pipe and do everything. I learned how to work with chocolate and pastry. I became obsessed in watching Martha Stewart and reading her books. There was one other great show called Great Chefs where the show would go to different restaurants around the world and each chef would do their signature recipe by just listening to their voice and watching their hands and the technique. To me, there’s nothing more calming and human than preparing a delicious meal for guests. I love how food can connect people.
14. I know you cherish your home so which is your fave IMAN Home Bed Collection?
I love the Hollywood Collection…. oh! The glamour of it!