Former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson used to do a bit about a psychic named Carnac the Magnificent.
Get me a giant turban, people, because I am having a Carnac moment after reading today’s New York Times story on Zac Posen, The Trials of a Former Boy Wonder. It quotes Posen, a pre-crash success story known for his “brashness” as saying he’s in “survival mode” due to declining sales, layoffs, “a revolving door of executives and an investor pulling back the reins.” The Times says:
“… his extravagant success came so quickly, perhaps faster than his limited experience should have allowed, that his setbacks echo all the more loudly.”
It also quotes Posen on his formerly lavish, celebrity-attended fashion shows:
“I love a spectacle, but I saw it as social commentary. I think my level of sophistication was a little higher than most people’s. I saw an abstraction to the whole media frenzy of it. But at the end of the day, that’s all that people felt, I think, and they didn’t really look at the clothing.”
The article says that Posen’s business, founded in 2001, has had sales in the millions but has never turned a profit.
Now read my September 2007 post inspired by Todd Oldham, on designers who go out of business despite outward signs of success. Note my aside about Posen in this context. Also note that I wrote:
“When you’re making a ton of money, you can get up on your high horse and make people wait for hours or whatever you want to do. But if you don’t have that kind of financial security, you better make an effort to encourage people to BUY things.”
Posen’s story tracks the story of a number of designers I mentioned in that post, from Oldham to Olivier Theyskens. Posen is trying to turn it around. I’m not sure I buy his newly chastened persona; actions speak louder than words, so I’m watching and waiting. I hope he makes it. He’s talented and it’s sad when a talented person goes out of business. Also, depressing industry news doesn’t encourage people to shop and I have jewelry to sell! Speaking of depressing news, while everyone mourned Christian Lacroix and Luella Bartley’s closures, I was more rattled by that of lesser-known Phi, which the Times also mentions in the Posen piece. Phi was started by Susan Dell, the wife of billionaire Dell Computer founder Michael Dell.A That was a vivid reminder of a lesson I learned vicariously years ago: Just because you have the money to spend doesn’t mean you should keep spending it. A business is like a child. It needs to grow up and become self-sufficient. If your business can’t do that, you might decide to spend your billions more prudently.
All of the failure stories are scary because starting any business means a significant investment and, frequently, years of losses. After that, some businesses become big, some last for years or decades and some fail quickly. A lot of it has to do with luck and timing. There’s no way of predicting it. As a great poet might have said, “The best laid business plans o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley.” (That temblor you just felt was Robert Burns turning over in his grave.) The unfolding story that I’m most intrigued by these days: Rodarte. Intense media and industry interest in newcomers making very high-end clothing? Bad sign. Deal with Target? Good sign. It will all become clear in hindsight.
Something Posen may yet re-evaluate in hindsight is his public confrontation last April with Glenda Bailey, editor of Harper’s Bazaar, after the magazine asked him to appear in a feature … posing with a Muppet. Specifically, the Count from Sesame Street.
So far Posen has no regrets. As he told the Times:
“‘I didn’t want to model with the Count,’ Mr. Posen said. ‘She said that was the only way my clothes could be in the magazine as a non-advertiser. I think she was surprised I wouldn’t take the part, but I stood my ground and I still do.'”
Personally, I was surprised the Times didn’t have a confirmation or denial from Bailey on the “non-advertiser” part of Posen’s quote. (Later in the story, regarding Bailey’s non-attendance of Posen’s show last September, the Times wrote that “a spokeswoman for Harperâ€™s Bazaar said the magazine had always supported him.”) I love Bazaar. I can’t afford ads, but I am true to what I wrote in 2007 and I’m not going to get up on my high horse. If Bazaar wants me to pose with a Muppet, I’ll be delighted to do it. It doesn’t even have to be something as upscale as a Muppet. I’ll pose with cereal character Frankenberry if they want me to. Glenda, call me!
I do appreciate any press my jewelry gets so, while I’m talking about magazines anyway, I’ll thank Women’s Health for featuring one of my rings in its January/February 2010 issue. Admittedly, the ring is completely invisible in this shot but I got a credit on the page anyway, so what’s not to love? Looking forward to working with you again, Women’s Health!
Run out and get the issue of Women’s Health with Pink on the cover. I’m on page 130. Also, if you passed up a chance to see Pink in concert, you should give yourself a good swift kick. I already gave myself one. I knew I should have gone to her Madison Square Garden concert last year and her stellar performance at the Grammys on Sunday made me even sorrier for missing it. According to the Grammys site, the clip is now available on iTunes. I’m definitely going to get it.
UPDATED MAY 22, 2010, TO ADD INFO ON ZAC:
- Will Paris love Zac Posen more than New York does?
- How’d that lower-priced Saks line work out?
- Target Zac versus regular Zac.
- Does his mom think he’s grown up?
- Is interior design his new calling?
UPDATED OCTOBER 20, 2010, TO ADD:
- Zac’s mother, Susan Posen, has relinquished her role as chief executive officer of her son’s company. She will continue to serve as chairman of the board. Susan Davidson, who is CEO of Scoop NYC, will also be CEO of Zac Posen. Both Zac Posen and Scoop NYC are owned by Ron Burkle’s The Yucapia Cos.
I ran out and bought it! Good for you on that credit. And I love your synopsis of the closure of Phi. I completely concur.
So much to say!
First, congratulations on the magazine!
Second, love those Phi looks and am sorry to learn of the shuttering.
Third, I’ve rarely been a fan of ZP–I find he overdesigns his clothing, but thought that he had a customer. And he should have posed with the Count; perhaps he could be counting more sales if he had?
Miss Janey says
Zac Posen is proof that talent and ego aren’t enough to keep a business alive. A good attitude helps tremendously! Miss J would’ve PAID to do five! five pictures with the Count… Ah ah ah!
Do you know which ring Women’s Health used?
I’ve always found ZP to be rather overrated. I don’t think he’s untalented, more that the media fawning on him was out of proportion to his output. Still, I hope he can stay in business.
Well said, Wendy!
I’d pose with the Count for Bazaar anyday, and I don’t even have a product to sell.
It’s amazing how the image of wealth and success can mask bad financial planning and failure. I, too, will be curious to see what happens to Rodarte … hopefully good things, as I adore their designs.
The Little Fashion Treasury says
Had to smile about “the count”.
When I was a little child I always left (I run 😉
the room as I had so much fear when he started counting
and then there was time for the thunders 😉
Love your feature on Marian´s blog!
These earrings are too gorgeous!!!
Make Do Style says
Can’t say I understand the whole posing with a muppett thing – sound a bit bonkers. But, the trouble with most designers is they lack commercial acumen. They usually need a partner who is the business manager. Ego is a terrible affliction.
Reena Rai says
I think he’s a little overrated, I’m not a big fan of overinflated egos too. Congratulations on the mag mention x
How would you feel about posing with the Cap’n? He seems jolly. And I think a Pink show is in order. I’ve never seen her in concert!
I cried a little when I heard about Phi. They made such great shoes!
Make Do, you’re so right. Many successful designers have a business partner. Out of all the guys who were big in NYC in the early ’90s, Marc Jacobs was the one who came out ahead because he got himself a great business partner in Robert Duffy. It amuses me that out of that ’90s group, Marc was the only one working for someone else (Perry Ellis) and got fired. People assumed his career is over. How things change!
very interesting post.
i used to have a friend that was a designer. she had to make the decision if she wanted to try to become famous, but probably never make any money, or if she wanted to SELL her ware and make an ok living. she chose the latter, and i have to say it hasn’t been easy. she sews nights and works days, and she is scraping by.
i really feel for small business folks. it is not easy. i have worked for several, and sometimes i think i might want my own someday. but the risk/time/money needed to TRY and make a business succeed are HUGE, and there are no guarantees. and when the economy comes along and takes a giant shit, it makes matters worse.
p.s. i have no idea why we were all so excited about flowers in the attic way back when. but it was definitely the forbidden fruit, and i gobbled it up as a kid. i am pretty sure it wouldn’t hold up so well today! 🙂
Thumbelina Fashionista says
Wow…this makes me so sad. I love Zac Posen and have some of his clothes, but I don’t get the refusal to pose with the Count. What is the problem with free press? Peter Som is another designer I’m rooting for. He’s always had trouble with money. (Actually, he was going to design a high-end condo near Bryant Park, but it fell through.)
Congrats on the mag reference! You definitely deserve all the success in the world.
By the way, what is the price range for your V-day sale?
I. Grace says
Congrats on the feature!
Now I really MUST buy that Zac Posen skirt I saw the other day. If he goes down, it’s like owning a piece of history! =)
Lenya Jones says
It’s a shame about Zac Posen, as you probably know, I’m a huge fan. I have a number of his dresses and I adore them. I have to say that will all the blogging I do about him, I couldn’t even garner an invite to his show and to me that says a LOT.
Mish Dish says
The last Phi sample sale was this week. Amazing deals for the archives. More rumors flying around 7th avenue this week that more companys we love are hanging on by a thread. xo Mish
Cheryl Lynn says
Hey Wendy! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Congratulations on the magazine credit. That’s wonderful.
This was a very interesting post. I love the beautiful dresses of Zac Posen, and I’m sorry that his business is not doing as well. It’s sad to see so many people losing their jobs but it’s really a blow when a creative person’s business begins to flail due to economic hardship. I hope he can turn his business around and stop being so pretentious. He needs to ACT like he wants people to buy his clothes!
Thanks for sharing. BTW, I look forward to the day when I can afford one of your beautiful and edgy rings! Fabuloso!
Shop N' Chomp says
Hi Wendy! We didn’t stop inside the soda fountain place but from what I could see…yes. 🙂
Fashion Herald says
I love it when you call out the journalistic fails! Congrats on the ring credit.
excellent post, WB.
So exciting about your ring feature!
Aaahhh Wendy not only are you beautiful, talented, wise, and psychic, you could TOTALLY pull off that Carnac hat. Total package.
Luved ur post! Just popping in to say hi, hope you are well. xx
sharon rose says
Hi there-very well done on your credit in Womens Health and another interesting post too, its sad to see such talent and creativity go to waste because of poor business acumen, well done to Marc Jacobs for having the foresight to do this from the start!
Elizabeth Marie says
Ahh I’m totally watching Rodarte…I can’t tell if the Target line was a blessing or a curse.
I’m SO buying the mag tomorrow!! My badass hero is in it!
So I creep…yeahhhhh…
another fabulous post! this piece on all the failing business etc really makes me think. I loved PHI!
congrats on the press honey
Oh Wendy…you are such a relevant, cool, talented chick. Any magazine would be foolish not to feature you and your jewelry. Let me know if your still interested in possibly having one of the stores here in El Paso carry your goods. I know that you and Ruby Lola would be a great fit. The owners are from New York!
Cafe Fashionista says
First yay for your magazine credit! I adore it when my favorite designers – jewelry or otherwise – get their just desserts! I have no clue where that phrase came from – it popped into my mind, so I thought I’d use it!
And who wouldn’t want to pose with the Count? He may not be Elmo, but he’s fabulous in his own right!! 🙂
Maybe I’ve been out of the loop for sometime, but I didn’t realize Zac Posen was doing so poorly financially! That sucks! Goes to show you that it takes more than talent and drive to make a business work!
BTW – Congrats on your Women’s Health mention!! Any press is good press in my book ;o)
I’m actually a fan of ZP, and would be sad if he had to stop designing.
What would fashion be without massive egos!? You can look after the glam social side of the company, just let someone else look after the pennies Zac!
It sounds as if Zac got too big for his britches. I hope he comes to his senses and stops acting like a muppet. Maybe he should have said “Not the Count, but what about Miss Piggy?” He could have done a couture design for her and everybody would have loved it.
Congratulations on Women’s Health.
I’m gonna buy that issue. Too bad all designers don’t have your business savvy!
Woohoo for the credit! I love that you never stop being so excited about being mentioned or when your jewellery is used for photo shoots, you’re fab Wendy!
Phi was such a good brand!
Great Read/post Wendy! Even though I am “in the fashion industry” being on the West Coast means a much more laid-back attitude and honestly don’t keep up with as much as I should with what’s going on elsewhere. Glad to have a synopsis and love your POV. Sales are crucial – w/out it, there’d be no business. My place of employment is always harping on that point for sure…
Couture Carrie says
Congrats on your feature, darling! How exciting!
Great, great, great article. It is sad how many designers are going under — the PHI thing made me especially bummed. I really liked the aesthetic. I never heard about Zac & the Count… hilarious. I totally think he should have done it. And of course YOU would have because not only are you a smart business woman, but you also have a sense of humor! Congrats on the Women’s Health ad — I’m buying it.
THe Clothes Horse says
Phi was great. I’m such a fan of Lacroix so that breaks my heart. It’s so crazy too how much money collections make and how they still don’t turn a profit.
On Posen…I find it hard to care about someone who only changes their attitude when the “going gets tough…”
Chic 'n Cheap Living says
Hi Wendy, thanks for the Twitter follow. I’m glad I found your blog too. I had been living in London and was really intrigued by the Luella Bartley demise. I was also going to write about Zac Posen’s Target line this week.
Oh and I saw you are having a show this week. I’m so bummed I’m not in NYC then. Congrats on the magazine credit – bigger and better ones are in the future I’m sure!
Iron Chic says
I opened my business at the worst time ever! Supposedly….now that I know how hard things can be, the future looks bright.
I think being slightly delusional about the state of things helped me get through the start-up process.
I didn’t know any better! tee hee.
One thing I have learned in the last year is you must adapt, adapt, adapt.
Keep changin’ it up!
To the Posens of the world, there is no room for jerks and assholes in business today!
why would anybody NOT WANT TO POSE WITH A MUPPET. I want to meet a muppet! Oh Zac, get over yourself.
ps. You were featured in my latest blog post
Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen says
Very interesting post. I must admit I’m not Zac Posen fan. He just doesn’t appeal to me. Todd Oldham otoh, I adored! And what a sweetie too — I still have the bottle of perfume he gave me when he wandered in my shop and I gave him praises about his designs and aesthetics, asking where I could get it because I couldn’t find it. Don’t you know he came in a week later and gifted me with a bottle? Class. And such creativity, I hope he can thrive in his new ventures. Sad to see Phi go though, they had some great designs. I hope not to many more fall by the wayside. Oh and congrats on the magazine!