You’ve probably seen Zac Posen’s gowns, handbags and accessories on red carpet–strutting celebrities, or his appearances as a judge on Project Runway and on his 2017 Netflix documentary House of Z. But long before his career in fashion began, the American designer spent his childhood in the kitchen mimicking his mom’s baking with clay models of pies. “Experimenting with food developed into a great love of the creative,” Posen says.
In 2017 Posen, 38, published a cookbook, Cooking with Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined (Rodale Books); he frequently posts pictures of his kitchen successes on social media under the hashtag #cookingwithzac. “Food for me is my fashion detox,” he explains. “It’s what I do on the weekends, it’s what I do when I go home. It’s really my fashion release.”
The longtime love affair with food eventually sparked a passion for wine. Adding to his typical client list of models and celebrities, Posen has dressed up bottles of VieVité rosé and Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, deeming fashion and wine the “perfect match.” Posen spoke to Wine Spectator editorial assistant Brianne Garrett about his favorite pairings from his cookbook, his “nerdy” fascination with the history and science of wine, and his surprising connection to the Champagne region.
Wine Spectator: What cultivated your love of food and wine?
Zac Posen: I’ve always cooked. I grew up in a very creative household, and my father [is] a painter, Stephen Posen. At the end of the day he would cook, every day, and he believed very strongly about having dinner together as a family in a very traditional manner.
Growing up, I have to give major credit to New York City, a food capital. I grew up in SoHo, and SoHo was not a residential area, so there weren't really supermarkets or food shops. But what we did have was Chinatown, from the produce to the fish to the Asian ingredients. And we had Little Italy—amazing pastas, cured meats [and] cheeses.
By the time I was in my early teens, I would voraciously read cookbooks and watch pretty much any cooking shows that I could find on TV. I love to entertain, and I have cultivated a repertoire of different menus and learning about different ingredients, and then that leads us to wine.
WS: When did wine enter the mix?
ZP: My grandfather on my mother's side opened a liquor store shortly after Prohibition in New York City. My grandparents were kind of self-cultured people, and although I never knew the wine store—it wasn't around by the time I was born—I think that heritage, and understanding his search and quest for importing and bringing different wines and spirits to his store, was something that was in my household.
My first fashion show experience was sponsored by Ecco Domani over 17 years ago. I won something the first year called the Ecco Domani Award—a fashion fund where they found emerging designers and talent and gave them a prize. If I [hadn’t won] the prize, I would never have been able to put on my [own] fashion show. Then, three years ago, we started on a two-year project on the development of labeling [with Ecco Domani], and then that led to last summer’s introduction to a really luxe, niche brand called VieVité and developing a gorgeous rosé for the summer. It all starts with tasting the wine.
WS: How does wine play a role in your cookbook?
ZP: I feel like wine is like a great perfume, and it’s a really personal thing. There was a big question when I was doing my cookbook [whether] we were going to do a cocktail section or a wine-pairing element to it. I definitely have some writings in the book about pairing with wine, but I really wanted to give that personal trust to the reader and to the creator. But certainly there are numerous pairings and [examples of] cooking with wine throughout the book.
Wine is an ingredient within the book, so whether it’s a roast or braising with wine, it’s definitely part of how to elevate the experience. The VieVité rosé pairs incredibly well with my branzino. The floral notes in the wine, the dryness to the sweetness of the fish—it’s perfect. I recently made my lamb chops about two weekends ago at my parents’ farm, where I do a lot of my cooking, and I brought out a very precious and rare bottle of Lafite, and it was delicious, absolutely delicious.
WS: Are you involved in any other creative wine and food projects at the moment?
ZP: I’m part of the Order of Champagne, and I was inducted into this years ago. One time I had contemplated wanting to put together a feature film on the history of the making of Champagne. I just find the whole history of [wine] brilliant and fascinating and special. It’s a special, decadent side of our history and of our luxury. Even being in Rome a few months ago and seeing these ancient, clay transport pots of wine or oil—it’s unbelievable, the history of this and the importance of it.
I’m [also] deep into agriculture. I garden and I plant and I grow a lot of my vegetables, so just understanding the cultivation of vines and of the soil and the vineyard is something that—in my nerdiest, science side—is fascinating to me.
I think food, wine and fashion are love, and I want to share that love. And I also feel like my place here on this planet is to promote and empower people to get in touch with their own creativity. Food and wine are great avenues and stimulators for that.
A version of this interview appears in the March 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator, "Bordeaux's Classic Cabernets," on newsstands Feb. 19. See what else is new!