House Of Z @Hot Docs 2017 – Tues., April 18th, 2017

I can remember my first time seeing a Zac Posen runway show in 2014 at the Carlu, like it was yesterday, and I confess to not really didn’t know much about the flamboyant designer back then. Sandy Chronopoulos’s House of Z, is the rise-fall-rebirth portrait of dress-designer, Zac Posen. Fashion aficionados will obviously appreciate this film, but there’s still more offered in this intimate documentary. Especially in its compelling account of the designer’s creative teen years, from the vintage footage to the celebrities he hung around with back in the days such as Claire Dane.

Zac Posen’s story begins in the 1980s in SoHo, New York’s coveted epicenter of creativity where the art crowd was most prevalent. Growing up with his father Stephen, a painter, and mother Susan, a corporate lawyer, Zac was already starting to dress things as a toddler. Even at so young an age, his potential was already glimpsed as seen in the home movies showing that the boy’s imagination went far beyond putting pre-made dresses on dolls.

By high school Zac rapidly matured, dolls having been replaced by statuesque models to dress. He was now going to classes with the daughters of famous or otherwise successful families, moving in circles with teens who had modeling careers or who simply appreciated his flamboyant nature.

Earning great recognition after his internships at the Met museum and with Nicole Miller, Posen attended the London school that produced Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, where he was noticed by Naomi Campbell, who sought his talent for a dress. He was featured in the New York Times Magazine at 20, before his creations had even become a real business. Realizing the time had come, he asked his big sister Alexandra to help sell his vision.

The Documentary story tells about the brand’s early days, operating out of their parents’ loft, where Posen coached his models and organized a presentation for buyers from Henri Bendel. By the time he showed his first collection in the East Village, models, fans and buyers wanted to be there. A man who knew how to get media attention, dressing in spectacular style in capes and costumes, everybody knew to expect a spectacular runway show from Posen. His backlash grew into something uglier, and the increasing stakes of Posen’s commercial operations knocked his vision off-course. Posen admits to mistreating his sister and mother, who had by that point become a cog in the company.

Not to be underestimated, 2011 saw his comeback at The Lincoln Center, focusing on Posen’s decision to maintain a real atelier in New York City, working intimately with skilled craftspeople instead of farming work out to other cheaper countries. The anticipation and suspense over the debut of a 2014 collection, the documentary presents as a last chance for Posen’s business: Scaled down and presented in his own company’s work place, it ensured that his creativity would take the spotlight away from being portrayed as being hard to work with. The film made its debut at the Tribeca film festival and it makes it premiere in Toronto this weekend.