Zac Posen and his friend Ryan Murphy had been itching to collaborate on a project for years. “We hadn’t really found the right one,” Posen tells Vogue. But the stars eventually aligned for episode three of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, which premieres tonight.
Murphy summoned Posen to set, where he watched Calista Flockhart-as-Lee Radziwill film a scene in a hair salon. “I got brought to a back room and Ryan presented this project and said, ‘I want you to recreate and reimagine the Black and White Ball, and it has to be big,’” he says.
The challenge, Posen notes, was refashioning the ball within historical parameters that also aligned aesthetically with the Ryan Murphy Cinematic Universe. “This isn’t a historical recreation piece,” he says. “This is a different story that we’re telling through historical figures. Each lady had their own history to bring.” Still, Posen dove into the era, meticulously researching the women who were central figures to one of the most talked-about parties of the 20th century. “I started off much more closely to history. I thought, let’s get our historical base, and from there, then we can evolve, abstract, and elevate,” he says. “[Ryan and I] were in touch daily through the process, but I was definitely given a great deal of creative freedom.”
Posen raced against the clock to finish the Swans’ gowns. “I had basically half of November and December to build these,” he says. “I don’t have a big studio; It’s me, plus seven assistants, so it’s a much smaller team than I’ve ever had in terms of making something at the scope.” He also faced the additional pressure of designing for television as opposed to the runway. “On a runway, something needs to be able to walk and come back. When you’re working with actors, you’re dealing with character development on women’s bodies.”
Despite the odds, Posen managed to pull off a fleet of uniquely dramatic looks for the women depicting Capote’s Swans: Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Naomi Watts, and Calista Flockhart. And he fulfilled a true bucket-list moment when he designed Nina Faulk’s feathered “Black Swan” dress, worn by Jessica Lange. “To make a fantasy costume as the Black Swan for Jessica Lange will be a highlight in my life,” Posen says.
Below, the designer takes us behind the scenes of how he fashioned the Black and White Ball for Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.