It's been just over a year since American fashion witnessed the closure of what had once been one of its most gleaming businesses. In November 2019, Zac Posen shuttered his eponymous label after eighteen years — when Cardi B wore two Posen dresses for her January 2020 Vogue cover shoot, Posen called it a "proud finale" for the label. And what a nearly 20-year act it was.
When Posen launched the company in 2001 he was 20 years old, with over 16 years of experience already in his rearview (he started designing at the age of four). He was part of an emerging crop of young designers in a post 9/11 world that were called upon to help reshape the narrative of a downtrodden New York City. But his story really begins a few months earlier. "The dress of the season wasn't on a runway," reported the New York Times magazine in a February 2001 feature. "It was a little number whipped up by a genius in training." Even then, barely out of teenagehood, Posen was self-assured in his pursuit of creating beauty. "I'm an artist and an anthropologist," he explained. "And I'm searching for a place where clothing transports, protects and enhances the wearer."
Now, somehow still only forty, Posen seems happier and more at ease than ever. He didn't tell me this, so much as I began noticing it on his Instagram feed. I wasn't alone. "So this is what happens when you quit fashion?" designer Kingsley Gbadegesin asked on Instagram accompanied by the hot face emoji. "Happiness looks good on you, Zac."
Prior to the closure of the business, the Posen Instagram was giving you standard fashion label fare. Lots of dresses, pics of Posen with celebs like Rihanna, Demi Moore and Eartha Kitt (!!), and the occasional and very necessary throwback.
We'd get the occasional selfie, but the light was often obstructing the view.
That all began to change when Posen made the slight but noticeable shift toward giving the people something else we want: more of him. It started appropriately with a throwback to a younger, shirtless Posen from his debut in Elle Magazine before we graduated to present day. In April, we got the emergence of plant daddy. By June, his brimmed hat began causing palpitations. And by September the pecs and abs were on full display. Two days later: Arm too emerged. To quote Justin Bieber: "I love arm."
The hits just kept coming.
So, I decided to call up Posen to chat about his fashion past, his fashion future, the IG pivot and our shared love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Zac, I just have to say as a fellow gay Jew and lifelong fan of your work, it is an incredible honor.
It's been just over a year since you announced the closure of your business. What has the last year been like for you?
Well, it's been as wild as I think it's been for many. Personally, it has been a time of reflection, a time of healing, a time of introspection and lots of learning about myself. I started my company so young and really ran my business for almost 20 years. So for most of my adult life, through many different types of rhythms and as a company evolves as a living thing itself, it's kind of what I knew. I started working in fashion at 16, and there was no looking back. So it was the first time that I had ever been in one place for probably more than two weeks since I was 22. And the first time that I wasn't in continual creation of a collection and all the components that go into that. So it was a real change of pace. And I think the greatest thing that I was excited about, and I'd always dreamt about and never had the experience to do, was to watch the seasons and nature change from sitting in one place. And it was really kind of incredible because you really feel the surprise of mother nature and how uncontrollable it is and all its elements.
How has that stillness changed you professionally?
I've continued my one-of-a-kind couture business, and so that enabled me to really take time with each piece. In my past experiences, the second I would be finished draping a piece or a gown it was out of my hands. And this gives me the ability to step back and reflect on pieces and perfect them or redo them. Also, I ended up just looking at the purpose of fashion. In September I did this installation in Central Park, and that was really about bringing a creative process and showing the resilience of New York City and how important impromptu creative ventures can be. And it wasn't about finished clothing; it was about the process of making clothing and what would come out when I brought my mannequins into Central Park. It was also a love note to the city. So my creative process has gone in many different ways outside of clothing.
Any projects you're working on that you're particularly excited about?
I'm working on quite a few different entertainment projects within the food space, gardening space, scripted, etc. I like storytelling. That's a big part of what I did in fashion and it's exciting to be able to have the time to develop and reflect. I think we lived in a moment when everything was so fast paced and everything had become — even if we didn't want it to be — slightly disposable. And I think that in a sense, this crazy time we're living in creates this refocus on value, on what it takes to craft something or make something and time to perfect things. As we look to the future, I've always been looking at technology and I've always been looking at how technology exists with craft because I think human craft remains, but it kind of gets explored and showcased through digital today. So we have to remain human and tactile.
I was going to ask if you ever hope to revive the brand one day, but it sounds like the brand still lives on. But do you ever hope to revive the brand as we, the consumer, once knew it?
No, definitely not. I think that fashion is rapidly changing. I think what defines fashion in some way is changing. The brand still exists. I am a consultant. But I'm very happy working on my solo pieces and giving them the attention that I feel that they need. And I think culturally the world is different. And I think that retail has changed. I think the consumer has changed and I think overall the whole model has to be really, really looked at. And that's something that I am constantly thinking about. That being said, there's some interesting stuff worth exploring like the potential of working for another brand in the future. We'll see. What I have the time to do now is really look into myself and think, "is this right?" Because I was so much on the go 24/7 for so long. It's been a really exciting time where I'm able to refocus and to really be healthy. I've always been healthy, but it's difficult when you're traveling to the extent that I was traveling and doing so many collections and. It's been great to be able to focus on that: get fit, get strong and get ready for the next chapter. The next act.
I interviewed Isaac Mizrahi last year and one thing that he said that really stuck with me was his falling out of love with fashion. "I just hate it," he said. "I think it's the worst." I'm curious if that resonates for you at all?
I'm pretty passionate and I'm definitely in love with fashion. How does that resonate with me? I think that fashion is a very difficult, challenging industry. Building luxury is a lifelong pursuit. Building a brand takes a very long time. I have no hard feelings for my experience. I've learned so much and became very wise as a creator and as a leader and really got an incredible business education. I don't live with regrets and I feel very fortunate to have the experience I had. And I think that fashion itself will always have a really important place for me. I think the industry itself I've watched change through so many different cycles. When I entered fashion it was really the old system. I watched that system evolve into digital. I watched a generation of American talent be groomed. I've seen talent leave the industry and the rise of influencers, social media, and direct-to-consumer. So I've seen the evolution and I know it will evolve multiple times more in my future. And I'm pretty excited to either watch that happen or be able to be at the forefront leading that.
I vote forefront. But let's go back to the getting fit comment you made earlier. Is it fair to say that the closing of your business directly correlates to your health journey? I know you mentioned finally having time.
Absolutely. I think that this time period gave me the opportunity to really look inside and really ask big questions and ask myself had I fallen out of love with fashion — which I did not. But also I think living a different paced life was really healthy: eating healthy and exercise. I mean, I started seriously exercising for the first time, where I was exercising every day and training, and that's been really good for my mind and getting through this time. I've been doing a training of yoga alternated with a kind of ballet training workout and then swimming through the summer.
Now on that note, we've gotten a lot more behind the scenes of Zac in the past year, particularly the latter half, on Instagram. Was that a decision you gave thought to or it just kind of happened?
Well, I really treat my Instagram pretty naturally — for better or worse. In the past, my Instagram was really balanced between Zac the person and Zac the brand, and when the brand closed and COVID hit shortly thereafter, I think everybody was spending more time at home and so it was really a natural progression. I think that I use social media to give a glimpse into my world and to share my passions, to teach, to inform, to educate. But at the end of the day, content is about entertaining. And part of growing up in the public eye is understanding that you have the ability to help people, to open people's eyes to things that inspire them, excite them and entertain them. So, you know, that's how I treat it. Teaching people how to cook, how to garden, motivating people to exercise, to live healthy, teaching them about history at times, or books I'm reading, movies I'm watching. I use it in a pretty uncalculated way is what I would say, but pretty honest.
So speaking of educating people about history, you posted a photo not that long ago with a caption that read: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which immediately made my eyes bulge. Are you a closet Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and was that your coming out post?
God, my love of Buffy… that's so funny. Well, I know you're a big Buffy fan. I mean, I definitely watched it in the heyday and I definitely have amazing memories from my teenage years in New York with Sarah Michelle — the fabulous Sarah Michelle — and what a force she was in New York City. I definitely used to watch Buffy. I mean, I love watching entertaining great shows, so that's where the caption came from.
In what way did that caption correlate to your shirtless body, I'm so curious?
It randomly popped up in my head. That was a full like random association with the photo.
Obviously you are someone who a lot of young designers look to as one of the blueprints for launching a successful brand from a young age. Who are you looking at? Who are the young designers that you have your eye on, that are inspiring you?
There's a jewelry designer named Jameel Mohammed. I think he's really, really talented. I like Craig Green. He's really interesting to look at. Marine Serre. I think of the excellence. She knows how to cut clothing really well. It's an interesting take on street fashion, and the techniques are there and I just liked the whole brand.
Let me end by asking you this. There's a ton of young people right now who have just graduated or will graduate in May and are going to walk out and enter into a rapidly shifting industry. What advice do you have to young designers, whether they be recent grads or those currently in school about how to move forward and make a path for themselves in an industry that has an uncertain future in terms of how it will be shaped ahead?
I think it's up to the generation that's coming out to really shape the future. The more knowledge the better, I would say. Get your hands dirty and start actually making clothing and really refining and defining your brand. I think this time gives an opportunity for new creators to really perfect and refine and define their vision of what they want to do if they want to start their own brand. If I were them I would be on my sewing machine day and night, which I was when I was their age. And I think that it's a great time to look at where the future can go. When I look at the future of clothing or a brand it doesn't even need to be a physical pieces. It can be something totally virtual: a new item that could be brought into fashion is something really interesting and important to look at. The trick is bringing something else into the vernacular of what defines a brand or what is luxury. And I think you really have the time to search for that. I would say get experimental. You know, certainly ecologically the world just doesn't need another piece of clothing. So really work on putting something out there that's very personable and very special.
Welcome to "Wear Me Out," a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.
Photos via Instagram
- Zac Posen Won't Dress the Trump Women - PAPER ›
- Zac Posen Shuts Down Its Business - PAPER ›
- The 13 Best Zac Posen Red Carpet Gowns of All Time - PAPER ›