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NEW YORK — Valerie Steele’s Q&A with Zac Posen Tuesday could easily have been mistaken for a round of “Six Degrees of Separation.”
In canvassing his career during FIT’s Couture Council luncheon at Doubles, the designer mentioned the myriad of friends and insiders who influenced him especially in leaner years. “I wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for Tom Ford. He took a risk, and wrote a check, and paid for my second fashion show without meeting me. That was our first show with real p.r.,” Posen said. “I started the company with money saved up from lemonade sales on Spring Street. That’s how you learn profit and margins, advertising, everything.”
Dressing like Charlie Chaplin for his first day of high school at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn didn’t deter him from befriending Lola Schnabel, Reena Hammer, Jemima Kirke and Lena Dunham. Through an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Richard Martin, Posen met John Galliano and Alexander McQueen whom he occasionally helped as a research assistant. And a teenage internship with Nicole Miller put Karen Elson in his orbit of friends. Even though he once won bronze in the New York State Math Championship, Posen said working in fashion always appealed to him more than academics. “I really didn’t do that well in school. I was really dyslexic and I had really bad ADD growing up. I was like a guinea pig for Ritalin, which was actually great for later in life. Drugs weren’t so interesting to me,” he said.
In London, at Central Saint Martins, he interacted with Louise Wilson and Richard Tangye was his champion. At that time, Sophie Dahl was a housemate, Jessica Joffe became a fit model, Anita Pallenberg acted as “a surrogate mom” and the V&A included one of the dresses he designed into its permanent collection. Another chance meeting between Schnabel and Naomi Campbell on the Eurostar led to the supermodel ordering clothes from him and teaching the designer how to fit. “I think she gave me 200 quid [$320] for fabric, which I thought was a fortune,” he said.
Posen, who will return to “Project Runway” as a judge and has a documentary in the works, even acknowledged critics of his younger, brasher self. “I would have strangled myself too. I was just too young and too in-your-face and not humble,” he said.