March 21, 2012
NBAF Fine Art + Fashion
Zac Posen and Neiman Marcus put on a show!
By Nancy Staab
- Photos by BenRosePhotography.com
Drop dead diva gowns and a 360 degree runway earn raves while several Atlanta fashion and art stars are honored. Plus: Read on for an exclusive interview with Zac Posen about Diana Vreeland, The Costume Institute Gala, and his new conception of American glamour.
Guest of Honor Zac Posen; Co-Chairs Merry and Chris Carlos and Su and Al Longman; Honorary Co-Chairs Charlene Crusoe-Ingram and Earnest Ingram; Fashion honorees Tamara Bowens and Ray Bergeron of Bowens Bergeron “carved couture” wooden handbags (they recently showed at NY Fashion Week); Visual Arts honoree Anthony Liggins, whose mixed-media acrylics are interwoven with yarn and fibers and who recently opened a gallery in Miami; Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing; Neiman Marcus Atlanta GM Mark Fillion; NBAF Executive Director Michael Simanga; NBAF Board Chair Evern Cooper Epps and Mistress of Ceremonies Jasmine Guy
Neiman Marcus at Lenox Square
A runway-chic crowd of NBAF art and fashion patrons enjoyed a pre-fashion show cocktail and hors d’oevures and several of Posen’s scene-stealing gowns on exhibit throughout the store (including a version of Glenn Close’s emerald green Oscars 2012 gown and Elle McPherson’s Golden Globes gown). The slickly-produced fashion show with a 360-degree runway around the upper level of Neiman Marcus, insuring everyone a front-row view, delighted the audience. Many of the voluminous, Belle-Epoque-elaborate ball gowns were fresh off Posen’s fall runway and simply stunning in their beauty, craftsmanship and drama. In fact one stunning strapless gown would be just the kind of severe elegance that John Singer Sargent’s Madame X would favor—only in navy instead of black. Just as alluring were some razor sharp-tailored but ultra-femme skirt suits and several jacquard print jackets and origami-like gowns inspired from the Orient. One “diva” model with major attitude, apparently imported from New York (she recently appeared on Posen’s fall runway), added entertainment to the show with her exaggerated poses and theatrical showing of the clothes, including a dress with a sweeping train and show-stopper red ball gown.
Ken Downing summed up the collection in a few words “outrageous” and “out of bounds” and then added, “Fashion can take you to many places but when fashion can take you back to beauty and this gorgeous place [referring to Posen’s collection] who wouldn’t want to go there?” Co-chair Su Longman’s response, while giving a thank you hug to Posen: “Can I keep him?”
A special tribute was made to late NBAF supporter and Chair Emeritus Sandra Anderson Baccus and a new Fashion Star award was founded in her name, just as she had previously created the NBAF Emerging Talent fashion award in her later brother M. Jack Anderson’s name. That talent award went to three fashion students this year, coincidentally all from SCAD: Azede Jean-Pierre, Kali Lague and Christian Caldwell. Actress Jasmine Guy was poised and witty as Mistress of Ceremonies in her black gown. After the fashion show and standing ovations, guests circled Zac Posen and Ken Downing for congratulations and enjoyed a post-show party.
Among the fashionable crowd were Brooke Jackson Edmond, Jack Sawyer and Bill Torres, Millie Smith (in lethally cool, emerald green snakeskin!), Sandra Baldwin, David Goodrowe, Cynthia Moreland, Janine Monroe, Kevin Knaus, Rhonda Mims, Tony Conway, Debbie and Jeff Dean, Kimberly and Travis Paige, Ed Stephenson, Elizabeth Lynch, Jimmy Adams, and of course the fashion-clad co-chairs Merry Carlos in a pretty-in-pink Rubin Singer sheath dress and Su Longman in a spirited black t-shirt emblazoned with adjectives like “articulate, indulgent, refined, virtuoso…” etc. and a custom python pant suit by Wes Gordon. We happen to know that these ladies, and many more Atlanta inductees into the “Posen Posse,” went home with custom Zac Posen orders!
Title Sponsor: Neiman Marcus; Presenting Sponsors: Merry and Chris Carlos, ING Americas, Su and Al Longman, The Coca-Cola Company; Platinum: Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta andThe Heavenly Hands Foundation.
Proceeds from the NBAF (National Black Arts Festival) Fine Art +Fashion event support major exhibitions of visual arts of African descent throughout the region. For more information visit: nbaf.org
SEE SLIDESHOWS OF THE NBAF PARTY PICTURES AND THE NBAF RUNWAY SHOW AND BACKSTAGE PHOTOS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE AFTER THE ZAC POSEN INTERVIEW BELOW.
LUXECRUSH INTERVIEW WITH ZAC POSEN
By Nancy Staab
LuxeCrush sat down with the sartorially-gifted and precocious designer Zac Posen (age 31) in Neiman Marcus’ green room, surrounded by peonies and buckets of ice cold Coke (one of Posen’s favorite beverages) and chatted about everything from attending the annual Costume Institute Gala at the Met and sitting in Diana Vreeland’s chair (!) to his connection to the late Alexander McQueen and the inspirations behind his stunning spring and fall 2012 collections. We should note that Posen, who makes all his own clothes, was clad in a dandy manner in a velvet Bordeaux suit with a delicate white violet in his lapel.
Your recent shows had me thinking of Old Hollywood 1940’s glam with the strong silhouettes and nipped-in waists but also very feminine. Was this period an inspiration?
I think that’s true in terms of the hair and makeup and tailoring and cut. But I think the main thing about my designs is that I really adore women’s bodies and their curves. A lot of the draping in the clothing becomes the construction lines of the clothing.
It’s empowerment dressing but still very feminine. The look is very similar to the America’s creation of glamour, which of course derived in part from Hollywood movies.
You can be soft and have strength too. This is very important and something that I think I am bringing to fashion that I don’t see that much of… so you find your place and your voice in the fashion arena.
Are you inspired by film at all?
I am a total film junkie, I watch tons of films and I grew up watching films, but at this point it’s just inherent in me, rather than being directly inspired by any one film.
Any significance to all the vivid red dresses in your recent collections?
I love to play with different tonalities of red. I mean, red is a passionate color from cherry reds to tomato reds. As sultry as black is, red can be a lot of fun.
So what are some of the direct inspirations for your recent collections?
For Pre-Fall I was interested in continued study of American couture and the idea of new American royalty. To me that is self-created royalty (which is what I think is amazing about our country).
I was also inspired by the idea of these American couture shapes and how they would be re-created on a trip to Asia. I was working with very ancient 17th-century Chinese hand embroideries and examining how that juxtaposes with or becomes a modern motif.
Then with the Fall collection we started with the trips I had taken to Japan—working with some of most incredible textiles there and developing them. We develop all our own textiles. In Japan we were looking at ancient woodblock prints and the shapes that clothing folds and makes…. We created a traditional obi-weight jacquard with an amazing sculptural quality. I’m always interested in the sculptural, draping and tailoring aspects of clothes and how this can translate in many different cultures. There’s a real fluidity in Japanese dress. But I never want the inspiration to be too direct and it must fall into the signature or our two houses Zac Posen and Z-Spoke.
Does the panoply of Japanese styles influence you…even the outrageous Harajuku trends?
Of course! The Japanese styling of Harajuku works more for my other baby Z-Spoke. I love the self-creation aspect of the Harajuku looks and making it their own. This is a very important concept. It gives a sense of empowerment, security and joy to bring your own interests and creativity to the way you dress. That is something absolutely crucial to having good style in the first place and that involves risk-taking.
Tell me about the significance of the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala, often billed the Oscars of the fashion world. You seem to have a signature moment there every year in terms of dressing a starlet or fashion icon in something gorgeous and memorable.
I adore the Met Ball! It’s part of my history. I started interning at the costume institute of the Met at age 16 for 3 consecutive years during high school. I consider it my first fashion education and it was at a formative time when I was first deciding if this dream of working in fashion was something that I would potentially pursue.
When I started interning at the Costume Institute, Diana Vreeland’s office was still intact with the stuffed peacocks, the photos of Maria Callas and Rudolf Nureyev on the walls. There was red lacquer and it was all done in a 60’s style. I actually did my interview for the Costume Institute internship in Diana Vreeland’s chair and spun around in it and said “Think pink!”
I attended a lecture by the Institute’s great curator at that time, Richard Martin, and asked him about an internship. I was definitely much younger than most of the other interns in the program. Some of the old Voguettes and Vreelands from Diana Vreeland’s day were still there. It was an incredible mentor moment for me and 1996-1998 was an exciting time in fashion and very formative in terms of my work now. There were great fashion creators at that time and a great sense of romance. My first project at the Institute was helping to make papier maché wigs for an exhibit, but I spent most of my time in the research library and doing vertical filing. But to be in that environment everyday and watch fashion shows and see hundreds of Christy Turlington mannequins everywhere (because she was the ideal at the time) was amazing…so it’s a very special place to me.
What about the Costume Institute Galas themselves? Any favorite anecdotes, fashion moments or memories?
The first [Costume Institute] Met Ball was for the Gianni Versace exhibition when I was still an intern and I saved up for several weeks for a staff ticket to the after- party. That was when they still did an after-party. There would be all theses interesting characters of New York there. I was still exploring the way I dressed. I was dandy punk and made a sharp gray Louis XIV jacket. It was pretty hideous and lined in emerald green and I probably had high sailor trousers and high shoes underneath and a mesh chainmail top. That’s the punk part.
And now you are dressing famous actresses and model beauties for that ball! Chanel Iman, Christina Ricci, Helena Christensen, Doutzen Kroes, etc….
When I started in the fashion business, I started attending the ball again. As Anna Wintour began championing and building the event, it became incredibly exciting. There’s been many amazing moments and I have really fond memories of spending time with the late Alexander McQueen and sneaking outside with him. In the early stage of my career it was incredible to be able to be with people that were such big heroes of mine and people that really inspired me. I went to school in London [at Central St. Martin’s] so I was on the scene and had met McQueen there, so it’s an interesting full-circle experience.
I’ll never forget going to the Met Ball with Eva Amurri [Susan Sarandon’s actress daughter) when Tom Ford hosted it and Diana Ross performed. To me that was the most fun one. It was a very intimate dinner, very dark and smoky and very controlled and of course Mr. Ford-orchestrated. Ford probably even scented the event, and it was perfectly lit and it was the most fun dance moment that I’ve had.
Dressing Helena Christensen for one of the balls was also incredible and, obviously, Christina Ricci in 2011 [in a fantastically wrought, spiderweb-like black lace gown now housed in SCAD Museum of Art’s couture collection]. I love Christina and thought that this idea of Victoriana with a macabre quality and a sense of grandeur would work. And she’s so petite so I wanted to maker her look as long and tall as possible.
To me that dress [the black lace webbed gown worn by Christina Ricci for the 2011 Costume Institute Gall] was a very personal project and an ode to Lee [Alexander McQueen] because he always took risks and always had a sense of technique and grandeur in his clothes.
And for Christina, who had such an iconic look as a child in The Adams Family movie, I wanted take that childish Gothic look and make her into a more glamourized, grown-up version of macabre like Morticia. It was quite an incredible experience—watching that dress move on her and watching Karl Lagerfeld and Bahz Luhrmann watch the dress move in the space. That was really a thrilling moment. It was an amazing piece to drape and build--working with the finest laces in the world and the ombré layering and now it’s at SCAD! I’ve actually spent lots time at SCAD. I taught the senior students and to me it’s very important to give back. We have a huge internship program in our own company and we try to find the most experienced, most professional interns that we think can grow and they work in our atelier.
And it was not very long ago that you, yourself, were an intern!
I’ve had my business for 10 years, so there’s been a lot of fast learning, lots of mistakes and lots of strides. It’s important to stay positive, creative and focused. To me, I am just at the beginning
You recently spent two years working and showing your craft in Paris. What did you take away from that experience?
I showed for two seasons in Paris. It was an incredible experience and formative in so many ways. First: it was a very risky thing to do and there were many ramifications to doing it. Second: it was interesting because I wanted to focus on craft and worked with some incredible craft people there. I would half-finish my designs in my New York atelier and then ship them to France to finish. I worked with the same couture leather workers that do all the leatherwork for Balenciaga and Chanel, I worked with amazing tailors, and that all had its own hand in my design education.
What Paris ultimately taught me was…that I’m really very American! There’s something really intriguing about continuing this great heritage of American fashion. Couture and construction done in this way is very rare and every day I am training myself, honing my craft and learning about who I can be and represent as a fashion designer.
What’s up next for you?
Well, I am working on Resort and Spring 2012, but right now I am very excited about building the next Z -Spoke collection [Posen’s younger, slightly edgier label] In terms of the look and fabrication, I think that Z-Spoke is at just the right point where designer American sportswear should be. I like the accessibility of it. And it’s really exciting because Neiman Marcus will now be carrying Z-Spoke, in addition to my main label.