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Designer Zac Posen seeks to translate stylish influence into female empowerment

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TORONTO - When Zac Posen came to Canada about a decade ago as a relative fashion newcomer, the New Yorker was taken aback by the love he received from his northern neigbours.

"I was so overwhelmed because we had such a large turnout of Toronto youth, and they were lining up on the escalator, " he recalled of the event with luxury retailer Holt Renfrew.

"I remember when I got up here I thought: 'Next time I come here, I better have something I can give them' because I only had these little lookbooks. And I was signing them, and we were such a small startup at the time, I remember thinking: 'My marketing material is gone now for the season. It's done!'"

The designer has since catapulted to the upper echelons of the fashion world, earning acclaim as a purveyor of modern glamour. He has outfitted top names, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ellen DeGeneres and Lena Dunham, and regularly features Canadian supermodel and pal Coco Rocha on his runway.

Posen was back in Toronto on Monday for a special fashion show being hosted by philanthropist Suzanne Rogers, with proceeds benefiting Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and Boost Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention.

"I've always followed his collections throughout the years. I'm inspired by glamour and he is definitely top of that," said Rogers as she sat alongside Posen for a round of interviews ahead of the event.

Posen said he planned to present an expanded array of looks from the fall collection he unveiled at New York Fashion Week which was inspired by powerful, strong women.

"No bells and whistles, no ruffles this season," said Posen, who recently hosted Variety's Power of Women: New York event.

"As much as I love the beautiful frivolity and frou-frou-ness that can happen in fashion, our clothing has always been about line and form and construction and craft, and I just wanted to (have) that as the focus message."

Posen spoke lovingly about the female figures in his life and said he gravitates towards women with "inner star quality" whether they're celebrities or stay-at-home moms.

"It's just people that enjoy and love life and have a graciousness and a generosity. That's what I value. And I think I share that with a lot of women that I'm drawn to and inspired by."

Posen is an active social media user, and in his recent keynote speech at the Fashion 2.0 Awards, he spoke of the need for those in the fashion community to exercise responsibility in how they navigate the digital domain.

"I think any medium artistically that communicates with the public has a responsibility to be presenting a positive message, and in fashion especially about womanhood and about femininity.

"Fashion has become a media force in itself. I call it 'fashion-tainment' in a way," he added. "As much as it's making beautiful clothing — and trust me, I am really obsessed in that process and the craft of it and making it — there's also just the image and the attitude that we put out there. And it's essential that people are able to represent their best selves and to feel good about themselves."

Posen said he isn't interested in presenting a "vapid, vacant, skeletal runway" saying he loves beautiful women in all different forms. He said it has been important for him to reflect racial diversity in his shows, and has been loyal to ongoing collaborations with models such as Rocha.

"I look it at like a theatre company or a dance troupe. Somebody's joined into our world and they will become integrated into it. I see them as much as great beauties and performers and runway walkers or posers for photos as people, too...and I want to help nurture that, because that will become symbiotic.

"Beauty is about the differences in life and people looking different, and you have to give those messages and confidence to young women out there," he added.

"They need to have somebody say 'You can relate to one of those people' and say 'You are beautiful, too.' That's really key to me."

- Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

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