Boho Soho brat turns Wunderkind fashion designer
Hairspray star Marissa Jaret Winokur was on the horn from L.A., giddily describing her experience getting a Zac Posen–designed gown for the Tonys. “I went to pick out jewelry to go with my white dress, and the Harry Winston people were like, ‘I think your dress is blue,’” she said. “Sure enough, soon Zac called and said, ‘I was inspired by a new color!’ He also said, ‘It needs a train! It needs a train!’ He’s so theatrical, you know.”
Delighted with the frock-she has since acquired two other Posens-Ms. Winokur invited the curly-haired couturier to accompany her to the Tony Awards ceremony, and he happily accepted. “My poor boyfriend got totally shoved to the back,” she said.
That Zac sure has a knack for sucking up the spotlight. It was almost two years ago that he ostentatiously staged his first solo runway show in a synagogue near the Bowery-”It was just an amazing space,” he told The Observer in an e-mail channeled through a strict gatekeeper publicist-styled by the artist Julian Schnabel’s daughter, Stella, and featuring the models Sophie Dahl and Karen Elson (“amazing,” cyber-cooed Mr. Posen), with Bush daughter Barbara in the audience. Ever since, the Schadenfreude-soaked fashion flock has been eagerly waiting for the heat to dissipate, Miguel Adrover style … but it just hasn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as this: Unlike Mr. Adrover’s dumpy creations, currently sitting sad-sack on the racks at Loehmann’s, the ladies actually like the way Zac’s clothes make them look! Actresses Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and Claire Danes have all donned his flouncy, high-calorie confections. “He’s just brilliant,” Ms. Danes gushed to USA Today. “Just the best.” And it’s not just the skinny-minnies who adore him. “He works with so many different bodies,” Ms. Winokur said, “and he makes them all look great.”
“It has always been important to me that my clothing work on a diversity of female forms,” Mr. Posen wrote in his e-mail.
The swarthy, charming designer’s line been picked up by Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks. “People come in and ask specifically for Zac’s clothes,” said Bloomie’s fashion director Kal Ruttenstein, an early champion.
Mr. Posen, the son of artist father Stephen (he provided the Schnabel connection) and lawyer mother Susan (she now runs his company), grew up in one of those airy, paint-splattered Spring Street lofts and was educated at the boho rich-kid St. Ann’s high school in Brooklyn, at Parson’s School of Design and St. Martin’s in London. Designing women’s clothes, he said, was “something I’ve wanted to do as long as I can remember.”
By age 18, he was selling his creations to the fancy friends one tends to accumulate effortlessly over the course of a luxury bohemian Manhattan childhood. The supermodel Naomi Campbell first noticed a Posen piece on Lola Schnabel (Julian’s other daughter), whispered about him to the other supes, and brokered an introduction through the designer Azzedine Alaia, whose form-conscious clothing, along with that of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, keeps Mr. Posen “on my toes,” he said.
Distinguishing himself from the many young whippersnappers out there whose point of historical reference seems to halt at about 1985, he also worships the work of Balenciaga (as in the late Cristobel, not the more recent Nicholas Ghesquiere incarnation) and Madame Vionnet. “The ingenuity and wizardry of her patterning never ceases to amaze me,” he said.
The designer’s sixth and most recent collection, entitled “Sargasso,” is named for the deep-cerulean waters of the North Atlantic, and offers mermaid dresses in pearly pinks, oyster grays and sea-foam greens. He said it was inspired by “seashells, the beach, boardwalks and sunsets.”
But Mr. Posen knows that one can’t just sit staring pensively at the surf and hope to make it in this town, and that’s why you might catch him making the rounds of Balthazar, Pastis, Da Silvano and Schiller’s Liquor Bar, spending the morning after in Page Six. “He’s out and about at night, seeing what people are wearing,” Mr. Ruttenstein said. “He has great charisma, which is part of being a designer these days. You have to be able to promote your product yourself.” When the two of them supped together in Milan at a restaurant called DaGiacomo, he added proudly, the corporate heads of both Marc Jacobs and Christian Dior came to pay their respects. The Times of London has also spotted Mr. Posen breaking bread with outgoing Gucci and Yves St. Laurent designer Tom Ford, leading to the inevitable speculation that the promising young lad is on the short list to take the reins at those houses.
“Anybody who comes after Tom Ford will have huge shoes to fill,” Mr. Posen e-mailed diplomatically.
“He’s working it,” Mr. Ruttenstein said. “In a good way.”