Zac Posen “gets” the red carpet. He gets that memorable moments require more than a glam fishtail or a swath of satin. Rather, the perfect moment in the perfect gown is the physical manifestation of a complex equation in which fashion plays but a part, along with psychology, business savvy, desired career trajectory — and visual projection of how the look will read small, but global, on Instagram.

“I try to understand what the actresses’ goals are creatively, what roles do they want to play,” Posen says. “How can we, from an insider’s perspective, dress an actress to help her achieve her career and artistic goals?”

This story first appeared in the November 18, 2015 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Posen understands the glories and pratfalls of celebrity. Thrust into the broad awareness of fashion while still a student — a fashion boy brimming with Hollywood-influenced concepts of glamour — he radiated joyful enthusiasm, and the fashion world loved it. But he also had a swagger that he now acknowledges outpaced his early resume. Live and learn.

He’s matured into a serious professional with his priorities clearly in order: the craft of fashion No. 1, its celebrity a distant second.

It’s the prior role through which he helps actresses achieve magical moments. Posen sells a notion of glamour that could sound pat: It starts from within. “The word ‘glamour’ to me means elegance,” he says. “That’s more from the inside than the outside. It’s about confidence and diversity.”

Certainly Posen’s glitterati following reflects that diversity: Katie Holmes, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Glenn Close, Rita Ora, Natalie Portman, Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah, Kim Kardashian, Amanda Seyfried and Kristen Wiig are among those who have worked a red carpet (or several) with the designer through the years.

That kind of client list is no easy feat in a world often impacted by financial considerations, whether formal brand ambassadorships or one-time payments to actresses, which Posen says he’s never done. Women have only one reason to wear his clothes — because they want to, drawn by pure aesthetics and the designer’s collaborative instincts. “There’s a trust that’s built between the performer and me, and mutual admiration of each other’s creativity,” he says. He aims to capture the personality aspect the actress wants to get across at that moment, and to channel that sartorial expression in a manner that plays into her goals.

Posen’s theatrical proclivity has found expression on “Project Runway,” and Posen says the experience has made him a better, more focused designer. “In a sense, [‘Project Runway’] gave me that platform to get that performance energy out there, and to be able to then have a real focus on the craft, and what I want to say about women and about clothing on my runway and within my brand. I had to find [an outlet], because it was in me. I think when I was younger, there was that struggle.”

That maturation process has led to clothes with heightened sophistication, apparent in a statement both simple and profound: He showed his spring 2016 all on flat shoes. “That was a big message,” Posen states. “You can have a more subdued glamour, a message that is not all va-va-voom.”

Posen always espouses glamour, but it must be smart. He feels the biggest mistake a woman can make is wearing something she’s not comfortable in. “All eyes are on the red carpet now,” he says. “People can really relate to authenticity.”

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