Boy wonder, tyrant, genius: Zac Posen has been called that and more.
The fashion designer, at 36, has experienced more ups and downs than his years might indicate and all are laid bare in a new documentary, “House of Z,” available on demand Wednesday at Vogue.com.
Without a theatrical release, after debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, the film traces Posen’s creative-fueled childhood in the heart of Soho, his young and beautiful muses, some of whom he met in high school, his best and worst moments on the runway and a painful falling out with loved ones who helped make his dreams come true during lean times indeed.
In some ways, the intensely personal film, the directorial debut of Toronto’s Sandy Chronopoulos, feels more like a retrospective than the comeback tale it tells. So why now?
“I was at a place in my career, in my company and in myself, to be open to tell a story. I’ve had time to reflect. I knew I wouldn’t want to be part of a puff piece but I didn’t know what kind of story she was going to tell. It was terrifying,” Posen told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Soon after his first independent runway show in 2002, when he was 21, key fashion critics hailed Posen as a star. The “Vogue baby” got a boost when he put his luscious creations on the backs of Naomi Campbell, Claire Danes and Natalie Portman, this after he hosted buyers for Henri Bendel in his parents’ living room, when his company was more “air and interns” than financially secure.
With his mother, corporate attorney and Wall Streeter Susan Posen, and his sister, Alexandra, by his side on the job, Posen received help in 2004 from rap mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, who pumped money, prestige and really great runway soundtracks into their company.
But Posen, a gay, dyslexic kid who attended his high school graduation dressed as the pope, went on to experience a darker side of fashion. He became known more as the ultimate “song and dance kid” rather than the master draper, the craftsman of luxury gowns, that he is.
His mother and his sister, who sit on his board and own a piece of the company today, departed in a contentious falling out. The 2008 recession hit, and the cutthroat fashion world in New York turned on Posen, especially after he decamped to Paris Fashion Week and showed a collection roundly torn apart by American critics.
Posen, depressed, not speaking to his family, returned to New York to double down on craft and regain the respect he had lost in his hometown. That moment is framed in the film by a stunning model walking in a stunning green gown during a February 2014 runway show that sealed his comeback.
“We were a wreck. There were lots of ferocious rumors about us. It was very isolating. I was very physically sick from it. I think mind over body, it’s real. It was hugely humbling, hugely reflective. It was scary,” Posen recalled.
Regrets? Posen said he has some, particularly over the shabby way he treated his sister at his most frustrated, angry and lost moments. The family reunited several years ago, learning once again how to be with each other.
“I don’t live with regret any more,” he said. “My family and I have certainly evolved and come to terms and grew from that experience, because it makes everything very real. I just don’t think I was very understanding at certain moments, understanding of her needs, of her desires, of where she wanted to be in her life. I think that in some ways it came out as selfish.”
Chronopoulos told The Associated Press by phone from Toronto that digging through Posen family business was perhaps the most difficult for the designer. She spent three-and-a-half years on the film.
“When I first started, Zac didn’t really want to talk about it, not even off camera. He would talk about his family but not the separation from the company. That came with time and trust,” she said. “The film really was part of the healing process for his family because they had never talked about it before.”
Today, Posen is a presence on TV as a judge on “Project Runway,” which began its 16th season in August. He’s the creative director for womenswear at Brooks Brothers and maintains an atelier in New York, turning out ready-to-wear and red carpet couture that continues to wow. Come October, he’s putting out his first cookbook, “Cooking with Zac,” based on his popular home meals with a following of their own on Instagram.
What would he like viewers to take away from the film?
“Hopefully what it does is inspire people to follow their dreams. I want people to follow their creative passion. I believe that creativity is an important human experience and element, in the same way as sleeping, eating, having sex,” Posen said. “I also want people to realize what it takes to build anything, that there’s sacrifice, there’s struggle, and it’s important to be resilient.”
Does he feel like the genius he was made out to be?
“No, not yet. I don’t,” Posen said. “I’m just me.”