Zac Posen's first runway show was in 2002, and it received mixed reviews. That didn't stop the endless buzz hyping the youthful designer—then just 21—as fashion's "Next Big Thing." In 2004, Sean "Diddy" Combs became an investor in his line, and his designs started appearing on red carpets. Posen also created Z Spoke, a less-expensive line for Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as a collection for Target.
Fashion designer Zachary E. Posen was born on October 24, 1980, in New York, New York, to parents Stephen Posen, a painter, and Susan Posen, a corporate lawyer. Posen was raised in Manhattan's trendy Soho neighborhood, immersed in what one New York Times account called "the art-and-money scenes of the 80s and 90s." Posen was a fashion fanatic from an early age, cutting up scraps of fabric as soon as he could wield scissors. "I was not a young fashion victim," Posen said of his early experiences. "I really had an idea of what I liked in fashion and how I dressed." His childhood friends were also highly creative, and included neighbors such as actress Claire Danes and the daughters of artist Julian Schnabel.
Posen attended the private St. Ann's School in Brooklyn and, while he was still a sophomore in high school, he interned with designer Nicole Miller. At 16, he enrolled in the Parsons School for Design pre-college program, and at 18 was accepted to Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design, a prestigious design academy in London. A leather gown he made as a student project was later acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
His big break in the fashion business came in 2000, when he made a gown for model Naomi Campbell, an acquaintance of his childhood friend and muse, Lola Schnabel. The sought-after gown was borrowed by a string of young socialites, each of whom wore it to a high-profile event. Though still a student who hadn't even had his first show, Posen became a fashion-industry name to watch.
After graduation, Posen moved back to New York City to live with his parents, who gave him a $15-per-day allowance. He set up a workshop in the family's home, thus turning his work into a family business. His mom, Susan, gave up her law practice to work as Posen's business manager, and his older sister, Alexandra, became the label's creative director.
Posen's first runway show in 2002, which focused on feminine and sculptured clothing designed for fashionable women, received mixed reviews. But that didn't stop the endless buzz hyping the youthful designer—then just 21—as fashion's "Next Big Thing." "I haven't seen such talent since Marc Jacobs," one Bloomingdale's vice president gushed. Industry kingpins, including Vogue editor Anna Wintour and LVMH Fashion Group president Yves Carcelle, took a specific interest in his work. Posen soon parlayed his good press and abundant connections into a career designers twice his age would envy.
With new financial backing, Posen moved out of his parents' house and into a Tribeca studio. In 2004, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs became an investor in his line, and celebrity clients such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman and Claire Danes began wearing his creations on the red carpet. "It's very strong women [who wear my line]," Posen said of his customers, "extremely confident and self-assured and powered [women]."
Backlash & Recession
With his meteoric rise came an inevitable backlash. Posen was criticized for paying more attention to the social part of the fashion world than to the actual garments in his line. "He is a little bit adorable and a little bit awful," wrote one New York Times fashion critic. The economic downturn of 2008 hit his business hard, with a double-digit drop in sales. Posen responded to the rough period by tightening up the company's finances and producing Z Spoke, a less-expensive line for Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as an affordable collection for Target.
Posen's company produces three collections per year, with plans to expand into lines of signature jeans, fragrances and retail. With his notable debut now a decade behind him, Posen is looking ahead to the future. "I'm definitely planning ahead for a brand that spans the universe," Posen said, "a Zac Posen universe."
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