NEW YORK — “What I’ve learned, if anything, is to take time. There’s no rush. There really isn’t.”
Reasonable enough as that was for Zac Posen to say Thursday night, the fact that it was nearing the end of a two-hour and 15-minute Q&A at 92Y gave it added punch. In fairness to him, the 35-year-old designer had covered a lot of ground with Fern Mallis, including interning for Richard Martin at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, learning the ropes at London’s Central Saint Martins College, befriending a legion of fashion insiders, gaining Sean Combs and subsequently Ron Burkle as investors, getting an unsolicited check from Tom Ford to help pay for a runway show, teaming up with Target and David’s Bridal, showing his collection in Paris, succeeding Michael Kors as a judge on “Project Runway,” taking on creative directorship of Brooks Brothers, tweaking the Rockettes’ Spring Spectacular costumes, and reimagining uniforms for Delta staffers.
Unguarded, amusing and at times forthcoming about the more challenging periods of his fast-tracked career, Posen said, “To be a leader you have to be a great collaborator, a great delegator, a great communicator and know when your hand and eye have to come into the process. I still get to drape. I don’t drape everything but my hand has to go through everything. I touch it, I correct it. I have to stick by those decisions too. You can’t flip-flop.”
Already enlisted for the next season of “Project Runway,” Posen’s 2016 plans include limited-edition red carpet-inspired MAC Cosmetics, relaunching e-commerce and the debut of his take on Brooks Brothers women’s wear. His wish list included a fragrance, a cookbook, a television show rooted in food, gardening or entertaining, and bringing a musical to Central Park. With his own 65-person company to run, Posen denied he is bringing back the Charles James label with Harvey Weinstein.
Here, some highlights of the talk:
Spending New Year’s Day in Disneyland with Katie Holmes and her daughter Suri:
We were fine until we learned about this app called Disneytracker, which tracks celebrities there. We had a great day, no one really bothered us.
Opting not to use his name on the Brooks Brothers label that bows in January:
That was my choice. They are America’s oldest clothier. Brooks Brothers as a brand stands on its own. It doesn’t need a novel name on it.
Having Sean Combs as an early investor:
He invested from his own company, [which was backed by Yucaipa] run by Ron Burkle. Shortly in, Yucaipa took over and now we are 50-50 partners. We’ve had one partner since the beginning. That’s a big deal. Fashion is an industry of moving chairs. Ron gives respect, he’s not a fashion guy.
The rise of fashion bloggers:
When I started there were lots of national newspapers that wrote reviews. Our public relations thought we were crazy for having a national press preview. I said, “Well, in each city there are people who buy clothes too…” There was a moment when Suzy [Menkes] was kind of disgruntled about all the bloggers and I thought that’s silly. Really. How petty. You have to give another medium and generation an opportunity to have the voice. If you shush them, they’ll never learn. Any way, she got over that, which is good. But that was a hard moment.
The need for self-branding:
The reclusive designer is not going to fly in the future. The big designers that you have had on this stage are of a different era, but they’re great performers. They’re personalities. The too cool-for-school thing is a snoring bore. It’s not interesting for media today no matter how talented you are.
Hiring Ashley Olsen as an intern and her subsequent fashion fame with The Row:
She was great. She knocked on the door and said, “Can I intern?” which, first of all, was the smartest thing she could have ever done. I knew they would be a success — 100 percent.
Working with Target on a capsule collection:
“It was a weird time. Financially, we needed to launch a secondary line. We didn’t really do it properly. We did it as a necessity. Z Spoke was a great opportunity with Saks. But to do things big and on scale, you need a huge infrastructure and we didn’t have it. It was right after that so it was just a lot. I had fun shooting. I don’t think that was an evolving moment for us. It was great advertising. They did an amazing party.
Showing in Paris:
Our secondary line wasn’t really working. I was just pushing, driving my team, going through employees, some people thought I was maniacal. I was in a corner. It was survival mode and the dialogue was not working with the industry. People had a lot of ideas about who I was as human being. So I went to show in Paris totally gung-ho…The American press went into kill mode and the European press loved it. I was working so much, I was probably 25 pounds skinnier. My hair was falling out, I looked like hell. I was in a new relationship. Our resources and our teams weren’t there. It was a big scary mess.
Returning to New York Fashion Week:
I hadn’t been out of my house in like a year. There were crazy, horrible, atrocious rumors created by people in fashion about me and Christopher. He was stylist at the time, he’s now creative director. There were rumors about drugs. My boyfriend is like a clean vegetarian and I hate drugs…We’d go for things and people would say, “We hear you’re on X, Y and Z.” We were like, “Are you kidding me?” It was really nasty. Fashion has a dark side to it…Then three days before my show, The New York Post came out with a 10-page article called Everybody Hates Zac Posen. It was mean, but it got everybody to the show. They all came to the show after that. But it was one of those moments where I was literally lying in an empty bathtub at six in the morning with this piece and the phone outside of the bathtub, knowing I had to do a full day of fittings.
Signing up for “Project Runway”:
It wasn’t really a choice. I was told by my business partner that I had to go on the show. After 10 years in the business, we were just kind of revamping how people saw me and most important the clothing…It’s amazing for the business. I don’t think Delta would have happened [otherwise.] We’re in almost 200 countries.
His personal objective:
My purpose is to inspire people to find their creative forces. If everybody finds some form of creativity I really feel that would be a form of global peace.