A quick glimpse at my daily attire would tell you that I don’t know anything about fashion. But as I sat there waiting for the arrival of Zac Posen, fashion designer phenomenon, and Jay Fielden, editor and chief of Town and Country, the oldest continually published general interest magazine in the United States, I was relieved that I had made a last minute decision to switch my Birkenstocks for something more fashionably appropriate. Arriving at Dinkelspiel auditorium, five minutes early, I was advised by the Arts Institute, which was hosting the event, that Posen and Fielden were running a little late, fashionably late of course.
Posen breezed in wearing an expertly fitted three-piece tweed suit. There was no moment of arrival, no pause or confusion. He wasn’t there and then he was and he was, and as soon as he crossed the entranceway he was already mid-laugh. Appropriately he had a woman on each side; after all it is women who drive his design motivation and inspiration. When asked about his role models he ultimately settled on Roy Holston because he “celebrated women,” concluding “at the end of the day the people I love are great celebrators of women.”
“When did you know you wanted to be a designer?” I began.
“My love of fashion came from my father’s use of fabrics in his photo realist paintings that were done before I was born,” he explained. “My great love of costume and fashion came from there and the theater and film that my parents exposed me to.”
Posen currently works on 18 separate clothing lines a year, including his own collection, his bridal collection, his secondary line and what he creates for Brooks Brothers (and that doesn’t include all the other different projects he takes on, such as judging Project Runway).
And it all starts with “draping”. “I pick fabrics and color and we put together mood boards but then I don’t really follow them. I just take it in as an overall feeling and then I put on my creative music and drape.”
According to Posen, he was born to drape.
“You learn your own process,” he insisted. “I always say I was born with a glue gun in my hand. I have always been tactile and I am inspired by nature. You can’t surpass the forms of nature. The geometry of it and the break of geometry of it are absolutely wild and beyond the imagination and it’s in us. It’s all there.”
By age 16, Posen was already working in the fashion industry, interning with fashion designer Nicole Miller. At 18, he was accepted into Saint Martins College of Art and Design at the University of Arts London.
“My college experience was very different from an American college experience,” chuckled Mr. Posen. “I skipped a year of college and moved to London and it was a complete unknown. St. Martins is considered the most competitive art school in the world and I was much younger than everyone I was going to school with and it was scary and intimidating.”
St. Martins only had one academic class requirement a week and students were expected to devote the rest was time to creative work.
“You start your professional career the day you walk into that school and it’s make or break or not get your clothing cut up or stolen by your classmates. Your grades get posted on the front doors and you would get critiqued every time you did a project in front of the whole school. This was like fame on speed for fashion.”
So what drives Posen? “Artists are driven by a sense of fear, of performance, of the creative process and fear of death,” he said. “Does your work have longevity? That is what a real artist’s asks. “
When asked who he would dress—anyone–past, present or fictional, Posen suddenly looked distressed and for the first time at a loss for words. “Well that’s not fair, I didn’t do my homework!” he retaliated, but recovered quickly and added, “well I would have loved to dress Rosalind Russell” and then cited Rita Hayworth the Marquis Casati, Elsa Schiaparelli and Diana Vreeland.
“Those are the typical fashion icons,” he admitted, sounding slightly disappointed in what he deemed to be a standard responses. But as I began on he brightened, cutting me off and exclaiming, “I would’ve loved to dress Isadora Duncan!”
My interview allocation was up but when I was reminded of that, Posen’s eyes glimmered with mischief, “Fight back, you’re a journalist!” he asserted with a grin. “Ok one more question,” I acceded happily. The “time bouncer” just shrugged. Posen, who has boldly challenged the fashion world on so many occasions, was going to get his way.
So I proceeded with my final question. “If there’s one thing you could’ve told yourself as a young person, what would it be?”
“So much!” He exclaimed, letting the inquiry it hang for a second before recalling the drama of his younger years. “I certainly enjoyed myself. But I would tell myself that things are going in cycles. You don’t understand that when you’re young because you thrive on the immediacy and the fear of loss.”
Posen’s career is nothing if not sensational, from his rapid rise to fame at such a young age to the accolades and critiques he has accrued since.
“Because the trajectory of my career was pretty insane and immediate and overwhelming, it all seemed incredible but also phony because I was probably my worst critic. So all of a sudden it gave this disillusion to my industry. I wish I had the ability to have a little more time to ease into it before I was suddenly in some perceived idea of the top.”
The next round of interviewers were shuffling, ready for their turn, waiting for Posen to take a breath so they could cut in and salvage their rapidly unraveling schedule. But Posen wasn’t done yet. He was speaking from experience, and at the age of 34 his experience is extensive.
“Take your time,” he advised. “Creativity is a life long pursuit. That’s the real key. The commerce part of it comes with it. If you create clear work, if you’re prolific with your work, you’re set…because then you can just edit it.”
And then, just when I thought he was done, Posen added on last thought. “And I would’ve said don’t try so hard.”
Contact Michaela Elias at melias23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.