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Fashion / Style File

The Great American Social Designer

BY // 10.01.14

For one long glorious hour, I relished in our conversation. Zac Posen, the debonair designer from New York City, was literally dishing details — we were baking cakes and #cookingwithzac. Prior to his CFDA Swarovski Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear in 2004, the young, ebullient Mr. Posen arrived in Dallas in 2002 to meet with Neiman Marcus and PaperCity — fast forward 12 years, and Posen is set to conquer the world. Having just completed filming his third season for Project Runway, followed by showing his Spring/Summer 2015 collection at New York Fashion week, Posen is venturing back to Dallas. In celebration of its 65th anniversary as a nonprofit, Fashion Group International of Dallas will honor Posen at the annual Night of Stars Gala, November 14. 

YOU’VE BEEN TO DALLAS BEFORE?

Oh yeah! I came to Dallas and had a party with PaperCity. It’s a fun memory — my first trunk-show tour and my first time in Texas. Neiman’s and Ken Downing brought me to Dallas, and we had an amazing event. I must have been 22. It was at The Mansion. It’s been a wonderful journey — and an adventure with Neiman’s and our Dallas customer.

YOUR GOWN WAS ON OUR FEBRUARY AND MAY COVERS …

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I saw on Instagram. Fantastic! PaperCity featured my first trunk show and party, and the second. The first was in San Francisco when PaperCity launched there, then we did Dallas the next day. You were the sponsors for that — it’s a big part of our heritage.

DINNER FOR HEIDI, TIM AND NINA: WHAT WOULD YOU COOK?

Heidi usually sends her menu ahead of time; she’ll go onto Instagram and pick what she likes from #CookingWithZac. Tim is a great cook himself, and I would definitely bake a pie for Tim — I’d probably cook him a peach ginger pie with sage ice cream. We all eat together during our break [on Project Runway], and Nina and I are very similar. We like healthy fresh food for the main course. Healthy, grilled fish … Be healthy in your main course and be decadent in dessert. I cook in almost every night. That’s my creative output.

WHERE DOES YOUR LOVE OF COOKING COME FROM?

I’ve always cooked. My dad cooked growing up. He’s a painter, so his studio was next to where we lived, and that was our process — the family would all come together. I’ve always enjoyed baking. I bake pretty much without recipes at this point, because once you understand the basics, you know pastry principles.

ON BAKING CAKES.

I love designing cakes. A great cake is a two-day affair when you get into it; it’s like making a gown. The ingredients are the fabric; the structure is the design and the balance of the cake. And then, if you have an embroidered dress, it’s like the decor of the cake.

FALL 2014 INSPIRATION.

I combined the art of old-world dressmaking with the precision of tailoring to create a collection that celebrates a woman’s natural form and gives her access to her most alluring and empowered self. I imagined a collection as photographed by Cecil Beaton in my New York atelier. I had a notion to bring the richness and emotion of beautifully made pieces into the here and now.

RESORT IS ABOUT TO ARRIVE AT NEIMAN MARCUS.

Well, dressing in white is ideal for Dallas. There is a crisp freshness to it. There’s something inviting with white, something effortless and chic about it. It goes great with jewelry, it looks great on all skin types, and it’s good for the weather, all year-round. There’s an ease of elegance to it — a pristine quality to white. It also has a futurism to it, yet it’s classic and optimistic at the same time.

THE STYLE OF DALLAS WOMEN.

They enjoy the great American tradition of social dressing — it’s still part of their culture. I think that’s really rare in the world today, and I think it’s really beautiful. It makes what I do continually inspired and excited. You have such a wonderful core group of women who are truly passionate about style, about appearance and about the self-creation of themselves. And if you can afford great fashion, indulge!

DRESSED AND POSEN AT NIGHT OF STARS.

Let’s create a moment, an evening that has the impact to show this tradition of great American social designers in fashion. America’s fashion scene has two directions: sportswear, which feeds into the lifestyle brands, and the great American social designer — Neiman’s has been an integral part of that history in partnering with the designers. I feel so fortunate to be part of that lineage and to have had that continual support. I feel like Neiman Marcus raised me!

LESSONS AT PROJECT RUNWAY.

The experience of being on Project Runway is definitely different. You enter into a whole new realm of media, and your life changes. You’re a public figure, and there are responsibilities that go behind that. People are hungry for fame in this world today, but there has to be an understanding that this is a huge responsibility. It means every day outside your door, to a certain degree, you have to be camera ready, whether you’re filming or not. You are interacting with popular culture, and you learn a lot about how you present yourself. It’s an incredible opportunity — enormous exposure. I’ve been a guest judge since the beginning, so I knew that it was the beginning of an opportunity for me to spread my wings and start moving even closer into the entertainment industry, into films, into theater, and I’m exploring a multitude of different development ideas. I’ve set up a whole entertainment team.

DOES THAT MEAN THERE’S GOING BE A NEW SHOW CALLED COOKING WITH ZAC?

TBD (laughing). There are only so many hours in the day, and my main focus is always on my brand.

THIS YEAR …

We’re launching sunglasses for women and men, as well as optical. And our ZAC Zac Posen collection is really kicking off at retail. I just took on a new position as creative director of women’s at Brooks Brothers; that’s huge on a whole different level. We were the first designer brand on Spotify to do a playlist where the songs were linked to the lookbook. Our David’s Bridal is a mass brand … Right now I have my hands full. I like to challenge myself. I don’t work to live; I might have when I was younger — I live the lifestyle of my work.

GREATEST FEELING OF SATISFACTION.

That I’m able to create every day — it’s a huge gift to form lifelong friendships and relationships within the wonderful world of fashion. Ken Downing knows more than anybody that we all work like maniacs. What it takes to do this is really a passion, a labor of love. It’s an amazing, wonderful opportunity. I’ve been able to travel all over the world, see all different types of customers across religious and cultural barriers through the power of the gown.

Zac Posen's design studio.
Zac Posen’s design studio.

Home, chic home.

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