Nobody Lays It “All On The Line” Like The Dapper Joe Zee

Adam Lambert (l) gives his fashion two cents to Joe Zee (r) on tonight’s All On The Line.

Watching the second season of the Sundance Channel’s All On The Line With Joe Zee, it’s abundantly evident that if anybody can help a struggling designer get it together and make it in the cutthroat business of fashion, it’s Joe Zee. Charming, direct and insightful like no other, Zee had already made a name for himself in fashion as Creative Director of Elle Magazine before the inevitable transition into television. Not unlike Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, Zee has  impeccable style. And also like Gunn, he has a relatability that makes it clear he’s there to help, not knock down or condescend.

In tonight’s all-new episode, Zee works with yet another struggling designer, but this time gets a little help from fashion icon, out rocker Adam Lambert.

AfterElton grabbed a few minutes with the busy Zee during a recent trip to Los Angeles and talked about how he stays calm and cool (or at least appears to be) with some of the more frustrating designers he works with on the show, the differences between New York and Los Angeles fashion and what a busy guy like himself does for the Christmas holiday.

AfterElton: I needed a cocktail after the season premiere with designer Angelo Lambrou. It was so stressful!
Joe Zee: Oh my God! I screened it at Hearst and we had a bunch of people having drinks afterwards and I watched it for the first time. I was there so I knew what happened and there was so much more that we went through that didn’t make it. When you’re with someone for three weeks it’s hard to put it all into 44 minutes, but after that was done I did need a glass of wine! It is stressful, but that’s what fashion is. Fashion is stressful.

AE: You seem like such a cool and calm collected person. How did you not let your head pop off when things just went out of control?
JZ: I don’t know that I kept my head on quite so cool in [that] particular episode. Listen, the designers frustrate me at times because they’re so in their own head space and so many times I’m looking at them going, ‘The problem isn’t anything else. The problem is you! You’re holding your own self back. You’re putting this all on yourself, but just get the work done!’

Who doesn’t figure it out? That’s the part that’s baffling to me. To me it seems so obvious and maybe I’m less of a mentor and more of a guide. I’m just there to open the windows and doors so the light can come in. If I have to guide you to a point where you have to do something that is not who you are, you’re not going to do it once I leave, so it’s really about helping them tap into what they can do on their own.

Zee (center) flanked by Alexander Wang and Joseph Altuzarra

AE: With your show and other types of shows where people are getting help, do you think people believe you’re going to come in and create magic and do the work for them?
JZ: There’s such a laid back, lazy attitude about it, and I think that helps the frustration I have, too. They expect immediate results. They think I’m going to come in there then it’s all going to come together and happen for them! It’s not going to happen because you want it to happen, it’s going to happen because you have to put in the work. It doesn’t just happen because I show up! I wish it was that easy.

AE: I’m naïve about the design business. Can you be a good designer if you’re not a good businessman?
JZ: Yeah, there are a lot of people like that. A classic example is Marc Jacobs whose business partner for his entire career, Robert Duffy, is one of the smartest men in the world of fashion business. You can be as creative as you want, be the most talented designer, but if you don’t have good business sense and you don’t have a good way to set up your business, it won’t work.

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