When I was first going through the list of over 230 films that would be screening at this year’s Canadian International Documentary Film Festival (aka HotDocs), I took note of the films that were of personal interest. Highlighting, dog-earing, circling the program just like many of you would. House of Z was definitely one that was of strong interest given my early studies and work in the fashion industry. What ever happened to Zac Posen? The designer that was shot to stardom faster than many thanks to early nods of approval of the highly influential Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour.
I expected to get an entertaining and curious look behind the runway and more insight about Posen’s fascinating career timeline…what I didn’t expect was to be filled with emotions when I left the press screening.
House Of Z, directed by Sandy Chronopoulos, is a documentary that offers two sides of Zac Posen. His personal life as well as the business of fashion. “Fashion has a dark side. It’s not all runways, lipstick and fishtail gowns,” said Posen in the film.
At a very young age he was seen in family video footage to always be playing with fabrics he had collected in his neighbourhood in SoHo, New York where there were textile factories. Dad was a painter, mom was a corporate lawyer and his big sister was everything to him.
Posen was heralded as a young genius as a designer and was known to have a clear vision of what he liked and how to dress. As he entered his teen years he started to create pieces for friends. It was one friend who wore a dress while in Italy that caught the attention of a well known designer.
While he was still in high school he interned with designer Nicole Miller and by 18 years old, he was accepted to the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design in London, England. When he returned to New York, he set up his studio in his family’s home. His mother and sister became involved in the business.
Soon many wanted a Zac Posen. Models like Naomi Campbell were wearing his designs. There was no doubt he was well-connected amongst his friends (and parents of his friends) who were quite influential. His designs become some of the most sought after for red carpet events by the likes of Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Posen was gaining lots of press in his designing career but what the documentary reveals is the side of fashion that is also about the business. How glamorous does it all look on the runway and to be seen rubbing shoulders with the celebrities and the fashion elite? What is often overlooked and not appreciated is the hard work behind the scenes. The costs and energy involved in running a show that is often months in the making — dwindled down to a mere average of 15 minutes of viewing and being critically analyzed by the press, industry and public. Aside from the show, economics played a role in his career much like other designers in the 80s. Posen’s business turned to include more affordable lines.
This documentary gives an emotional ride not only about Zac Posen, but also about family, friends, critics, and fans who were also involved. He’s paid his dues and the documentary shows he’s clearly learned from his experiences. I’m still in love with his work and have come to appreciate him even more for his courage to offer a view of real life…beyond the runway. Bring your tissues.
House of Z is showing at the HotDocs Film Festival. Premieres on May 3rd at 9:30 pm. A Q&A will follow this screening moderated by Jeanne Beker. Second screening will be on May 4th at 1:45 pm. For more information visit hotdocs.ca