Fashion Designer Zac Posen Talks Entertaining

The acclaimed fashion designer and Project Runway star, who recently designed a limited-edition label for Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, talks with Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa about his lifelong love affair with vino, his chef skills and how to pair wine with Japanese fabric.

How did you develop a passion for wine?
I have spirits and wine in my family history. My grandfather owned a liquor and wine store in NYC, and they opened up right after Prohibition. He took trips throughout Europe and always valued the artistry of winemaking.

What do you like to drink?
I love Austrian wines, Australian wines, New Zealand’s wines. I can’t say that I’m a full wino, but I know what I like and I let it take me on that journey.

Did you grow up in a wine-loving household?
My parents met each other in Italy, so yeah, I think vino was definitely in the household and definitely not uncommon at the dinner table. As I got older and traveled with them in Italy and France as a young teenager, I tasted wine with them, to understand it (I was not actually drinking as a young kid, obviously), and I definitely started to understand the different notes of it.

Then a good family friend of ours who was a wine lover took me to the Gramercy Tavern and did a wine tasting dinner with me, and that was, from an epicurean and wine appreciation standpoint, pretty enlightening. After that, I understood that the dance of wine and food can be artistry and enjoyment at the same time., like great theater.

You love to Tweet what you’re cooking. Have you always been really into food?
I cook almost every night. My interest in food comes from being a curious person, from being an expressive person and growing up in New York City. I had a Norwegian babysitter growing up, so I was introduced to interesting flavors like salty licorice. I grew up in Soho, which is close to Chinatown—definitely an enlightening laboratory for ingredients.

My parents and I also planted a roof garden in Soho, and that became a great source of ingredients. There’s nothing more thrilling than biting into that first tomato that you grow yourself. And I think I’ve always loved desserts. I have an aunt that bakes immaculately.

I like to work with fresh ingredients and produce. I am obsessed with produce. I make my own pastas. I do it all. Take me to Bergdorf or to Eataly? It would be a hard pull, but I think I would end up at Eataly.

How do you do that with your busy schedule?
I make the time. Sometimes, we will eat a little later, sometimes at nine or 10, when I get home when I am not at an event. But that’s my fashion detox.

You’re cooking at your famous dinner parties, too?
There’s no army in the back. It’s just me. Dinner parties can be used to impress, but when I have dinner parties, it’s with my close friends or people I want to know. I want people to be comfortable. I think entertaining in the kitchen helps.

Dinner for a larger group is set pretty casually in my living area, and I’ll set that up as a buffet-style [meal]. If it’s six people or less, I set up in the kitchen so I’m able to talk with my guests. Usually, I offer them a great glass of wine or try to offer them a great cocktail if they want it.

Preparation is key to a dinner party. It’s great to have the hors d’oeuvres and dessert done before guests get there. To me, simplicity of your main course is essential…something that’s fast and easy. I don’t like to let things sit too long, so it’s best to enable mains like fish and meat to be cooked right then. I usually do a salad and a purée soup course and then a dessert.

You mentioned your love of baking. There’s a technique to baking that’s very specific, so I can see the connection to what you do now.
I bake without a recipe. But I also truly and inherently understand measurements and proportions. I think once you have the foundation, it helps. But– there are definitely failures in my kitchen. I’m human, like everybody else.

Again, with cooking and fashion, there’s a certain technique to it…you have to understand the science.
Yes, just like you have to understand the construction of clothing. I have been friends with so many great chefs and winemakers over the years, and we understand that correlation.

How did you get involved with Ecco Domani?
There’s a long history there. I put on my first fashion show for them, thanks to a grant they funded. We had a great, magical night. Ever since, I’ve had an emotional connection to the product.

What was your goal with the label? Where did you find your inspiration?

I wanted to pick up on the fresh, floral, exotic notes in the wine and I didn’t want it to feel like there was a fashion illustration on it.

We develop and design all of our textiles in Japan. There’  a guy there in Terajuku who sells antique Japanese textiles. I developed a fabric I found there into a collection. It was a kiku print, and I thought, “This is what [Ecco] reminds me of.” It connected—the happiness, the exoticism, the lively pep.

Ecco Domani is a pickup wine, a “getting the party started” wine and an entertaining wine, which really connects to how I feel fashion should be. I feel like the wine is so stylish on its own that it can stand on its own. And I wanted it to look good in someone’s kitchen and be a great gifting item. When you look at it, your initial instinct is to turn it to see the other shapes on it, and metallic is important because it picks up light and plays nicely against the green color that emerges from it.

It’s a great wine to cook with, too. It’s aspirational yet accessible, and I think that’s important.

Which wine regions have you visited?
Dordogne, Champagne, all through Italy. One summer, my family was in Dordogne and my sister and I would walk through the vineyards into town. We would see the dogs or pigs out looking for truffles. It was my first serious experience living a lifestyle that enjoyed wine and thrived on agriculture. I am an NYC-bred kid, so that was not something I grew up with every day. There was artisanal spirit I saw there that was so ingrained in me at that time.

You’re in Japan often, do you like the wine being made there?
I am obsessed with researching the wine industry in Japan. I’m really interested in the extreme manicuring of grapes because of the rain and the mold. M aybe it’s too much [Japanese network] NHK TV for me. Nerd alert! The manipulation of nature to something that becomes a crafted product, and just seeing how they treat these clusters like they are diamonds. I’ve never seen such beautiful giant globes.

What are some other wine influences?
I was inducted into the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne [the official fraternity of Champagne brands] as a chevalier a while back and became really obsessed with making a short film on the history of the making of Champagne. And I am really close friends with Gia Coppola [Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter], who just came out with her wines [Gia by Gia Coppola]. Gia is like my little sister, and through her, I have gotten to see her hereditary passion for American wine.

Any other parallels between fashion and winemaking?
It starts with the raw ingredient. Like winemaking…you have to have a good grape or vineyard to make great wine. Without good fabric, you cannot make great clothing. You can construct something and put the work into it. But you need the raw material. With me, I let great fabric tell me what to do.

Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes video with Zac Posen and Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa >>>

Follow #WEprofile for exclusive conversations with movers and shakers in the beverage and food world on Twitter and Instagram >>>

Published on May 7, 2015
Topics: Q&A, Wine & Fashion, Wine Trends
About the Author
Susan Kostrzewa
Executive Editor

Reviews wines from Greece and Cyprus.

Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa joined Wine Enthusiast in 2006, when she moved from Sonoma, California, to Manhattan. Kostrzewa has written and edited wine, food and travel stories for the past 14 years, and oversees all editorial direction of Wine Enthusiast Magazine and WineMag.com, in addition to the tasting programs. Kostrzewa co-edited the Wine Enthusiast Wine & Food Pairings book and has co-authored numerous books on wine and travel in her career. Email: skostrze@wineenthusiast.net




SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories