Once upon a time, back in ye olde days of 2002, a young designer, just shy of 21 years old, was discovered by a store that was famous throughout the land for crowning the new princes of fashion. And so he was named, and so he was celebrated, and so it came to pass — at least for awhile.
He made big, lavish ball gowns. He wore top hats and tails. The most famous women wore his clothes and became his friends. Rich men invested. He won awards. He was on a reality TV show. He had a documentary made about him.
And last week, both his company and the store that first found him met their demise.
On Friday, not long after a bankruptcy court in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., put the final stamp on the sale of Barneys’ intellectual property to Authentic Brands Group, beginning the closure of its bricks and mortar stores, liquidation of its inventory and the start of its new life as a disembodied brand, an announcement came that Mr. Posen’s board had “determined to cease business operations and carry out an orderly disposition of its assets.”
Essentially, after what the announcement called a “comprehensive strategic and financial review of the businesses,” his backers had lost faith in the company. Ron Burkle of Yucaipa Companies, the majority owner, had been trying to sell his stake since April, with no success.
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I want to express my appreciation to our extraordinary team and for all those who have stood by me and the brand. I owe a great deal of gratitude for their unwavering support for and dedication to the Company. I am grateful to the team who lent their incomparable talent and commitment along the way. I remain incredibly proud of what we created and hopeful for the future. Love ZP
The fairy tales of both Barneys New York and Zac Posen do not have a happy ending.
Derek Blasberg, fashion and beauty director of YouTube, tweeted, “Fashion has been (and always will be) a tough business, but it’s like 2002 is imploding!”
This morning, I read Barney’s was shutting. Tonight, Zac Posen closed his doors too. What’s happening? Fashion has been (and always will be) a tough business, but it’s like 2002 is imploding! WILL SOMEONE COME OVER AND PUT ON A “SEX AND THE CITY” MARATHON AND HOLD ME?— Derek Blasberg (@DerekBlasberg) November 2, 2019
The premises on which Mr. Posen and his peers based their careers — that a seal of approval from Vogue, for example, was all the push you needed; that celebrities on the red carpet were the best marketing you could have; that a department store like Barneys was the open door to a consumer sector — no longer held true in the fractured age of social media, peer influencers and direct communication.
They were following one plotline, and all of a sudden it went veering off in multiple different directions.
Mr. Posen’s began as the charming wunderkind who grew up in TriBeCa, went to the arts-oriented private school Saint Ann’s, did a stint at Parsons, and was discovered before he had even graduated from Central Saint Martins in London. Naomi Campbell wore his clothes; so did Natalie Portman, Claire Danes, Katie Holmes and Lena Dunham.
He made himself into the P.T. Barnum of New York Fashion Week, and attracted investment from Sean Combs. (When Yucaipa bought a stake in Mr. Combs’s Sean John brand, it took over the investment in Mr. Posen’s brand.) He became the model of the well-connected, well-dressed, publicity-loving young designer. The red carpet was his happy place. It was also his distraction.
He suffered the fall from grace of the braggart, took himself to Paris in 2010 because he thought it might understand him better, and then returned, penitent and ready to work. His mother, a lawyer who had been his C.E.O., stepped down to make way for professional management.
Mr. Posen took on side gigs to support his brand: creative director of Brooks Brothers, designer of uniforms for Delta Air Lines. He was a judge on “Project Runway” from 2012 to 2018. He started a contemporary line, and did a collection for David’s Bridal. He embraced Instagram. (He has 1.9 million followers.) He owned his own mistakes, most publicly in “House of Z,” a 2017 documentary about his rise and fall and return. He wrote a cookbook. He was a regular at the Met Gala.
It’s easy to blame the rise of the big luxury groups and the meddling of private equity, with its desire to get in and out of investments fast, for the difficulty of being a small, independent designer today. Certainly, financial engineering plays a part. But culture has changed, too.
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