Style Feature: The Zac Pack

Prior to bring his fall 2014 runway show to Toronto on April 28, New York–based Zac Posen catches up with his Canuck bestie Coco Rocha

Expect a rush of lavish taffeta to swish through Toronto when Zac Posen brings his fall 2014 runway show to Canada in the latest instalment of Suzanne Rogers Presents, the fashionable philanthropist’s annual bash supporting local children’s charities. In anticipation, New York–based Posen catches up with his Canuck bestie Coco Rocha, while bright young model Chloe Rogers (who also happens to be Suzanne’s daughter) takes his lush spring collection for a spin.

Coco Rocha: I remember when we first met, in 2006. I was coming around the bend in your studio to audition for a runway show, and there you were at the table with your posse. I was nervous because my agents had told me that it’s pretty tough to get cast for a Zac Posen show, so be sure to have a really good strut. Since then, we’ve done a dozen or more shows together. How do you find your inspiration for all those collections?

Zac Posen: I take in everything: television, museums, street and pop culture. And then the direct inspiration is just my process in the studio. I learn every day from the people I work with.

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Posen pals around with Suzanne Rogers (centre) and Rocha in his New York studio

When you say street culture, how does a Zac Posen gown draw inspiration from that? It can be reactionary. Street dressing at the moment is all about large shapes, and that has a relationship to gowns and evening wear in terms of shape and fabrication.

Who are you designing for? I think it’s a woman who is embracing a glamorous event or occasion. I also think that what unifies these women is a form of inner creativity and confidence.

You definitely need confidence to carry off a Zac Posen. What do you think “the gown” means to the modern woman? It’s a form of escapism, something unique. It’s like a memento.

Since we’ve been friends, I’ve made myself believe I need to wear gowns much more than I probably should. I’ll go to weddings where they’re like, “It’s just cocktail,” and instantly I’m thinking, Zac Posen gown! And I’m not trying to upstage anybody, but I assume gowns should always be worn to big, beautiful events. We need more Coco Rochas in the world, and more gowns! More gowns make the world more beautiful, that’s how I see it. People should have fun dressing up. Fashion, especially now, is for entertainment purposes. You know?

Mid-century couturier Charles James is being honoured at the next Met Gala, and your work has definitely been linked to his name. Does he inspire you? When I was 16, a mentor of mine introduced me to his designs. The story is, apparently there are Charles James dresses hidden in the Chelsea Hotel. I was told they’re laid under the floor.

We should do a treasure hunt; it would be an amazing television show. Like opening Al Capone’s vault! His gowns are incredible. He spent years and years making them. There’s a strong lesson in his work about letting go and not being overly precious. That’s a really hard thing for me. He was also very reclusive, which is something I fantasize about. I think I could be really happy moving to the countryside and having some ducks.

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Oh no, you’re a New York boy at heart. But let’s talk about women. You have plenty of Canadian ladies in your life these days. You’re showing your collection in Toronto for the first time with Suzanne Rogers for her charity gala. You and I have also worked together a lot. What do you like about us Canucks? The Canadian women I’ve met have an excitement and poise about them. Suzanne Rogers is a force; she inspires me. She’s such a powerhouse. Charity is an important part of Suzanne’s work and mine, and of yours as well.

The thing I always love about your runway girls is the diversity in terms of race as well as body type. This isn’t the case with most designers. I don’t do it intentionally. I cast my shows through character and beauty, and that’s something that comes in every shape, size and colour. It’s mysti­fying to me why sometimes there’s such a cookie-cutter ideal or look in fashion. I don’t think it’s beneficial; I find it very unchic.

How do you escape from fashion? I don’t get to escape much, but my hobbies are cooking and gardening. I borrow my mom and dad’s land in Pennsylvania. I like the idea of being self-sufficient and eating what you grow. It tastes that much better. That’s like my Zen. Cooking with Zac.

That’s another TV show idea. You have to write a cookbook and teach me! How to cook fashionably in a gown… Exactly! Chic food! Fashion food.

Suzanne Rogers Presents Zac Posen: An Evening of Modern American Glamour will take place at The Carlu in Toronto at 7 p.m. on April 28 with honorary chairs Lauren Santo Domingo and Martin Short. Proceeds will go to Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.