A Designer On The Rise

Zac Posen makes an adjustment on a dress he designed for singer Rihanna during a final fitting Monday, Aug 28, 2006 in New York. Rihanna will be wearing his outfits for Thursday's "Fashion Rocks" show which kicks off Fashion Week on Friday, Sept 8, 2006.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
If anything captures the energy and excitement of New York's Fashion week, it's the Zac Posen show. His may not be a household name — yet — but for fashionistas, this show is the place to see and be seen.

It's great for celebrity spotting, but what really brings them in is the chance to observe the latest Zac Posen designs, from coats and suits done with a distinctive flair to elegant, feminine evening gowns.

Posen's dresses are bound to turn up on red carpets and are worn by everyone from actresses Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman to singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige. Co-stars Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet both sported Zac Posen at the opening of their recent film, "The Holiday."

Posen said celebrities are attracted to his brand because his clothes reflect their identities.

"They all have their own identity and have strong beliefs, and that's in our clothing," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "And I think that drew them to the clothing."

Posen says he thinks of his creations as "moveable architecture," and said he is interested in "timelessness."

"I'm interested in things that, you know, could be from the past, the present or the future, things that will last," Posen said. "I'm not really that interested in trend."

Braver observed Posen as he prepared for this past week's show. He created upscale pieces that cost from $400 to several thousand dollars. Watching him command his showroom — or the work room where the pieces are made — you almost forget just how young Posen is. He's only 26 and he's had his own fashion house for five years.

Posen has already been the subject of countless spreads in magazines such as Vogue. He grew up in New York City. His mom is a lawyer and his dad is an artist.

"I was like 3 and 4, was sketching clothing and making clothing out of clay," he said.

After high school, where he was known for his crazy costumes, he went to study fashion design in London.

"England inherently has a great appreciation for the art of the eccentric," he said. "So you know, it was the place for me."

While he was still a student, one of his dresses was chosen for the permanent collection of the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum. He also started hand-making clothes for friends. His fame spread by word of mouth.

"It was wildfire and people were having, you know, magical experiences in the clothing," Posen said. "They were having the time of their life."

While he was making clothes in London, Naomi Campbell saw one of his dresses and decided she wanted one. She then became one of his regular customers and helped build the buzz around Posen. He staged his first show at age 20 in his parents' living room. Buyers from Henry Bendel attended and started buying Posen's designs.

It was then that Posen decided to start producing his own line of clothes — each piece painstakingly constructed in his New York studio. He now has about 50 employees, including the company's creative director, Posen's older sister Alexandra Posen. The two have always shared his passion for design.

"We're also each other's trusted confidante," Alexandra said. "We're collaborators, essentially."

Posen's mother Susan is the company CEO. She gave up her law practice for her new job.

"You know, it's an amazing thing to build a company, to be working with both my children," she said. "I mean, who would've thought it!"

In fact, Zac Posen has always capitalized on his relationships. Take Natalie Portman, who hosted "Saturday Night Live" in Zac Posen, or Claire Danes, who wore Zac Posen to a major fashion award show.

"Natalie, you know, went to school with my best friend from childhood. Claire Danes, we grew up in SoHo together and so she has early pieces before college that I was making," Posen said.

And when it came time to take on a business partner, Posen turned to someone else he'd gotten to know: Sean Combs, also known as Diddy.

"We got to a certain point with our company and we knew we needed an investment to grow to take it to the next level," Posen said. "And he wanted to be part of it and grow it with us."

Posen, who lives with his longtime boyfriend, interior designer Brian Callahan, has already moved beyond clothes to designing bags and shoes. He plans to create a whole luxury brand, with furniture and tableware, while always and forever designing clothes.

But not everything is well-received. Posen said that only about one in five of his pieces are hits. He said that's "a healthy ratio," and that he has to be able to take rejection in his line of work.

"All the time, every day you have to take lots of deep breaths and be very open to change," he said, "and you need to be at least 20 steps ahead all the time."