numbers guy

Zac Posen Was a Teenage Mathlete

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

A crowd of selfie-requesting fans gathered for Zac Posen’s Q&A with Valerie Steele at yesterday’s Couture Council/FIT lunch, held at the Doubles Club. Posen was his usual witty self, reflecting on everything from his teenage math prowess to how a check from Tom Ford saved his fortunes. Here, a sampling of his bons mots.

On fashion terminology:
“I always liked things that had a balance of something — I’m going to use a clichéd word — organic. Maybe one day we’ll figure out a definition of what that means in fashion. What does that mean: organic?”

On interning at the Costume Institute as a teen:
“One of the first things I [worked on] was an exhibition called ‘Wardrobe,’ about text in fashion, which I thought was really poignant because I could relate it at the time to what I was seeing on the street. We made wigs from different time periods out of newspaper or when there Yellow Pages still — when there were different newspaper colors. You know, pink hair from The Observer.”

On saying no to drugs:
“I didn’t do that well in school. I was really dyslexic and had really bad ADD growing up. I had every kind of doctor — you know, when you’re young — because it was the early stages of that stuff. I was like a guinea pig to a lot of them, which was great actually. Later in life I was like, ‘Oh, drugs are so uninteresting. I’ve been on Ritalin for my whole childhood. Don’t need this.’”

On how his academic fortunes changed when enrolled at Saint Ann’s (where he befriended classmates Jemima Kirke and Lena Dunham):
“I got very involved, academically. I worked on a math program. I won at the New York State math competition. Bronze place. I won in high school for tessellating the human body. The first thing I asked [in computer class] was, ‘Are there programs where you can drape fabric on a computer?’ Well, the answer was no to that, but then I figured out a software system where you could just wire frame the body, like with computer animation, and then you could print it with seam allowance. I took this class on foreign mathematics, and then I took a class called the history of mathematics, where it broke it down for me. Numbers became abstract. So — Babylonian mathematics, Egyptian mathematics where numbers have other properties.”

On his most famous benefactor:
“I wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for Tom Ford. He took a risk, and wrote a check, and paid for my second fashion show without meeting me.”

On his early days:
“I would have strangled myself, too. I was just too young and too in-your-face and not humble.”

Zac Posen Was a Teenage Mathlete