Designer Zac Posen visits SCAD to screen documentary



First, they called him a child genius designer.

But almost as quickly as they built him up, the fashion industry watched him fall. “Fashion,” said Zac Posen, “has a dark side.”

In a documentary, “House of Z,” Posen reveals his spectacular rise and fall.

Earlier this month, Posen, 37, arrived in Atlanta to screen the 90-minute documentary at SCAD with the film director, Sandy Chronopoulos.

At a Q&A session after the screening moderated by SCADFILM senior executive director Leigh Seaman, Posen took questions from the audience.

"Zac shows boundless generosity to SCAD and our students and he has been my dear friend for many years," said SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace.

Posen and Chronopoulos were so impressed with SCAD student expertise and the university technology and facilities that the next day, they recruited a SCAD student to help shoot a cooking demo, Wallace said.

While he is currently featured on “Project Runway,” Posen continues designing his eponymous collections. The documentary, he said, was therapeutic. He gave Chronopoulos free access. In 18 interviews, she pulled together the story of his career which began in earnest when he was 16 years old.

Fortunately for Chronopoulos, Posen’s father had videotaped almost everything from Posen’s childhood and she was able to weave the archival footage and images into the story.

Raised in SOHO in the 1980s, Posen was cradled in creativity, as described by his sister Alexandra and his parents, Susan and Stephen Posen. His early exposure to draping cloth on a form -- the skill for which he is best known -- came from his father, a photo realistic painter who painted fabric.

Posen struggled in school with dyslexia and ADHD before transferring to a new high school where he began designing clothing for children of well-known New York families. Each day after school, Posen would work on his designs. He also worked as many different jobs as he could in the fashion industry.

He attended Central Saint Martins in London but would leave school to design full-time. He was only 20 when his work was endorsed by model Naomi Campbell and subsequently, the New York Times documented him as a star. He was getting attention from the press before he ever had a business. With his sister on board to assist, Posen started building a fashion house in his parents’ loft.

His breakout moment was in 2002 after his first show which was attended by the biggest names in the industry. Posen was hailed at fashion’s wunderkind. He played the role of young upstart well, but it didn’t match his true persona.

“We I’ve in a world of appearance. We live in a world of image. We like to transpose that image on people in the public eye. The positive side of that is the ability, especially in this country, for self-creation which is something I am a big believer in,” Posen said to the audience SCAD.

Somewhere around 2006, he realized he had been taken in by the “beast.” As he got bigger, the pressure grew and everyone had an opinion. Posen was pulled in so many directions that his own vision got muddied.

After the recession, when Posen’s designs were at their most theatrical and ambitious, investors and retailers had become more conservative. He did a line for Target to raise funding but felt he needed to relocate.

“We had used up our fashion equity,” Posen said. So he fled to Paris thinking he would be better understood. His team ended up exhausted. The show was panned and Posen was angry and demoralized.

He still finds it hard to talk about the moment he stopped working with his mother and sister. Posen lost his entire team and he was physically and emotionally worn out and he was afraid to tell anyone. He had no choice but to start over.

Posen staged a comeback show in New York. The end of the documentary illustrates the painstaking process of finishing a gown for the show with staffers worked until the early hours of the morning to make it happen.

In the end, Posen pulls it off and now, the industry is watching him rise again.