Although Zac Posen has been celebrated, and, at times, derided in the media since his early 20s and his first fashion show in 2002, the designer and former “Project Runway” judge is more focused and successful than ever. If it appears that his broad smile and curly hair are popping up all over, that’s because lately, Posen, 38, is practically everywhere.
This spring, Posen landed in Los Angeles to mark the end of the largest collaboration of his career, designing new uniforms for more than 64,000 of Delta Airlines’ employees in the air and on the ground. For the last leg of the project’s international debut, Posen unveiled during a fashion show at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills not only innovative cuts and fabrics but also a bold new color option. The designer combined Delta’s signature navy and red into a purple that the airline calls Passport Plum. As part of his Delta project, he shadowed employees and also learned how to serve snacks as a flight attendant.
“I believe deeply in the power of glamour and the excitement of flying,” Posen said then at his third U.S. press event of what would be a 22-hour workday. (The May worldwide launch began in Singapore and ended in L.A.)
Posen’s dresses for female flight attendants invoke the Golden Age of aviation with sleek, retro sheaths modernized with aerodynamic accents — swooping inset borders and a neckline’s scarf tie that seems lifted by a breeze. Lands’ End manufactured the 1.2 million items, most in durable, stretchable and stain- and odor-resistant fabrics.
The Delta project was in addition to Posen’s many other business endeavors. Like an airplane, a fashion designer who keeps pushing forward and aiming high is on course for an often thrilling, sometimes bumpy journey. Posen has been the creative director of Brooks Brothers signature women’s collection since 2014. A year earlier, he launched ZAC Zac Posen, a secondary line of shoes, bags and eyewear. His Truly Zac Posen label is licensed with Helzberg Diamonds and Blue Nile for wedding and engagement rings and with David’s Bridal for wedding gowns.
“I oversee about 15 or 16 collections a year between Brooks Brothers, bridal, jewelry, sunglasses and accessories,” he said, not sounding at all exhausted. “It has been an incredible journey.” He’s a visible presence in philanthropic circles too, recently becoming an ambassador with the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation.
After more than 16 years in the fashion industry, he’s continuing to expand his multimedia presence. In late spring, he launched “Loud and Clear,” an online miniseries on Yahoo Lifestyle in which Posen interviewed female role models including actress Laverne Cox, country star Kelsea Ballerini, actress Judith Light and tennis champion Serena Williams. But after several seasons as a judge on “Project Runway,” Posen won’t be returning to the show when Bravo reboots the unscripted fashion series with a lineup of new judges.
However, he has other projects to turn to, particularly in the kitchen. Last fall, Rodale Wellness released “Cooking With Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined,” which landed him on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” alongside Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour, an early champion of his work. There, Posen revealed one of his many hidden talents — singing Broadway tunes.
A longtime interest in cooking first surfaced on Instagram, where the designer’s 1.6 million followers liked pictures of his homemade soups, stews and roasts almost as much as they did images of Katie Holmes, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna wearing his designs.
Cooking, he said, “is my fashion detox,” the thing that feeds connection to family and friends and also his unstoppable energy.
That nurturing side, however, isn’t readily apparent to outsiders, nor is it a focus of the biographical documentary “House of Z,” which premiered in New York at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017 and is on Netflix. Posen gave director Sandy Chronopoulos full control over the story, which tracks his rise as a 21-year-old boy wonder, to his near-ruin from hubris and the 2008 recession, and, finally to a triumphant return in 2014.
The film also gives an unsparing look at what he called “the dark side of fashion,” forces that pushed his mother, Susan, and sister Alexandra to leave the business that they started together in the family’s SoHo loft in New York.
“Within the filming of the movie, there was actually a real healing process with my family and particularly with my sister,” he said. “It really hit me.”
Posen also said he wanted the film to educate up-and-coming creators about “what it takes” to be successful, even if it hurts.
“There was no reason to have another fashion documentary that was light and fluffy and puffy. I had had tough times and hard experiences,” he said. “The good times and the bad times have made me a more humble and realistic and, at the same time, driven individual. I’ve become a better person because of the journey I’ve been on. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s life — in any field.”