Vancouver Fashion Designer Peter Zuk is the living embodiment of your best daydream and your favourite cartoon animal. He comes down the stairs of his studio enveloped in a sheath of pastel, wide-open arms, and about a million ‘i’s on his “Hi!” Proudly displaying his studio and the bright, fresh coat of pure pink that covers every surface, Peter sits and narrates every piece that you can see sticking out from the shelves, drawers, bins, and bundles. His work process sounds involved and labour-intensive and yet as he tells it, punctuated with chuckles, giggles, and “whatevers,” he almost gives the impression that his brilliant pieces come to life as he plans them. The fashion world has started to take notice of this new, outlandish talent that sits among them. From working with Ru Paul and Dragula girls, to hip hop artists from LA to receiving an email from the Nicola Formichetti, to showing at NYFW, VFW, and Tokyo Fashion Week, Peter Zuk may be the textbook definition of ‘rising star.’
There’s a lot of things we have to talk about but first, can you tell us about Nicola Formichetti’s email?
Yes! It was actually right after the craze of my FLETCHER collection and I got this email and tbh, I was sure there was no way it was real. It basically asked to pull the whole collection right after I showed it. So I decided, whatever, I’ll just reply so I sent off a quick email with my lawyer friend who helps me with all my important adult stuff cc’d and I said something like ‘Sure, I’d love to! Whatever you want, just let me know! Fuzziest Regards 🙂 “ Almost immediately after, my friend messaged me and was like “You’re not allowed to write your own emails anymore.”
I was approached by the Global Fashion Collective after I showed Overdose!!! at Vancouver Fashion Week for the first time. They pretty much said that I was a liability and I was excessively theatrical but they wanted to sponsor me to do New York and Tokyo Fashion Weeks anyway! It was such an incredible experience.
That’s a hysterical email response. Your Overdose!!! collection has gotten so much press but can you talk a little bit about the personal experiences that led to creating it?
I drew so much inspiration from my nightlife. When I was 19, I went out every single night for a year. I have a mustache now but before I could grow one, I looked like I was 10 years old—like I was picked up from daycare and dropped off at the club. I hate it when people are all like “YOU’RE SO YOUNG” so I decided to take my youth and shove it in people’s faces. So I took fluffy teddy bears and turned them into hypersexualized silhouettes—like, fine, I’ll act my age when you deep-throat my youth.
So you showed in VFW and then got to do New York Fashion Week and Tokyo Fashion Week with Overdose!!!. Tell us everything.
Omg, it was the best! I was approached by the Global Fashion Collective after I showed Overdose!!! at Vancouver Fashion Week for the first time. They pretty much said that I was a liability (this collection was an amalgamation of his love for sex parties and wanting to set himself apart from the moment the fashion world got a taste of him) and I was excessively theatrical but they wanted to sponsor me to do New York and Tokyo Fashion Weeks anyway! It was such an incredible experience. In New York, the planets aligned and I was able to have Vixen from Ru Paul and Bitch from Dragula walk in my show. In Japan, I wasn’t able to have all my girls with me but I have a friend in Tokyo who reached out to some queens in Tokyo who wanted to be involved. It’s important to me that my shows are as LGBTQ+ as possible. Tokyo was crazy and a bit more stressful because of the language barrier but still, so amazing. There was one girl we had to dress in 40 seconds and no one spoke the same language!
What made you choose to pursue Fashion Design at Blanche Macdonald?
I moved to Vancouver from Kelowna and got a boyfriend who then broke up with me and ruined my life. I wanted to do something to make him feel like he’s missing out on me but I had no idea what that was. I was at Celebrities Nightclub one night when my path crossed with my studio partner. He came over and told me he liked the dress I did my one and only drag number in. When I told him I made it, he told me I had to go to school, specifically to Blanche Macdonald.
And how did you find the program?
I liked it a lot! But I was an awful, horrible student LOL. The only problems I had were my own doing. They give you full disclosure that its hard and it’s a lot of work. The teachers were so wonderful, I can’t even. All the times I thought of going to fashion school and envisioned what the teachers would be like, the instructors all hit the mark of what teachers should be and what I thought they would be. [Executive Director of Fashion Design] Tyler [Udall] is so hot too, so that helps! [Fashion Marketing Executive Program Director] Peggy [Morrison] is the quintessential teacher. She has her favourite fashion looks and inspirations but she can understand what is good and bad, whether it’s her taste or not. [Instructor] Sara [Armstrong] is the most helpful for sewing and how-to questions. She’s so easy to talk to, understanding, and SO good at what she does. I asked to be her TA and they were like, “No, you’re a liability. We never know what’s going to come out of your mouth and you’re always late.” Which was all true and totally fair. Which is why I cackled when I got your message about being profiled! Thank God this will be edited. But Blanche was where I was able to fully realize my brand, Haus Zük, so I owe them so much for putting up with me and letting me finish.
Back to your shows for a minute, with all these incredible queens in your runway shows, do you give hair and makeup directions?
God no. They’re all phenomenal artists and they’ve all donated their time and skills to support me so I’m not going to tell them how to do their makeup or walk down the runway. For models that aren’t queens, I made masks so I don’t have to worry about hair or makeup!
We watched so many runway shows at school where yeah, ok, the clothes were amazing but nothing was happening. That was when I decided my shows were going to be impactful, eye-catching and exciting.
Why do you think it’s important to not be afraid of broaching sexuality, sexual freedom, and taboo subjects on the runway?
It’s such a big part of myself, and for me, it’s easy to speak about. I could preach about gay rights all day long but the bigger thing for me is to talk about it when I have a platform to do so. Trans rights are a bigger thing for me that I’ve been talking about as well. I can sympathize with them, but I can’t empathize. I’m gay but I’m white and a guy. One of my models, Berlin, is trans and she started to transition at the beginning of Overdose!!!. It is so cool to see them exude how they feel on the inside, on the outside as well. Like, it’s crazy heartwarming. I do what I want and look how I want and create what I want every day and I do it with ease. Maybe I get a weird look here or there but that’s it. For them, they’re dying. There’s no ease to their life and authenticity like I enjoy. I wanted my friends in my show. I didn’t want to make it a spectacle having a trans person in the show because that’s upriver from our goal. Girls like Berlin and Lola are in my show not because they’re trans but because they’re beautiful. It’s just who they are but they can’t say and do whatever they want, because they don’t always have that freedom.
What made you decide to incorporate so many big theatrical elements into your shows?
We watched so many runway shows at school where yeah, ok, the clothes were amazing but nothing was happening. After the late 90s-00s, it seemed like a melancholic fine-ness just descended over everything. That was when I decided my shows were going to be impactful, eye-catching and exciting. And nothing is more of that than a drag performance!
Two weeks before FLETCHER, I suddenly decided I wanted to incorporate hydraulic wings and my friend was like 'Omg you’re so brave' and I was like 'No, I’m delusional!' I had to take two Adderalls to get there and don’t remember the runway show LOL but it’s all good. All of my success and lightbulb moments are due to my straight-up delusional unshakeable confidence.
Do you have a favourite piece from Overdose!!! or your new collection, FLETCHER?
In Overdose!!!, there is this dark blue big teddy bear shoulder look that I love. This sounds so cocky but I love that piece because I had this great idea and the piece turned out exactly how I wanted it to. The cape from Overdose!!! is also another standout piece. It took over 200 hours and I actually can’t believe I finished it. FLETCHER is something that I never thought I would do. It’s so elegant and romantic, and something extremely unexpected. It’s the most important collection I will ever make, I think. My favourite piece from that was the final look with big ruffles, roses, and the rabbit mask. The model was actually carrying the cast of the legit hands and face of the collection’s namesake, who is one of the most important people in my life.
Your lightbulb moment: Delusion! I was so delusional about what I was doing. In school, they were like “you should do this” and I was like “NO”. I listen to feedback but sometimes I’m just like “no.” I have this unshakable confidence. Two weeks before FLETCHER, I suddenly decided I wanted to incorporate hydraulic wings and my friend was like “Omg you’re so brave” and I was like “No, I’m delusional!” I had to take two Adderalls to get there and don’t remember the runway show LOL but it’s all good. All of my success and lightbulb moments are due to my straight-up delusional unshakeable confidence.
Success is: Sustainability. Being able to create something that is working and ethical. I want to have a brand that runs itself but can be seen in a lot of different ways. I’m definitely not successful yet. The things I’ve done are cool and appreciated, but I’ll feel truly successful when I’m a haus-hold name and have created distinguishable looks for LGBTQ people. I want to be known as a good, queer designer.
Dream collab: I’ve thought of this so much! I really wanna do Neopets. I think that would be so funny! I’d also love to collab with some underwear brands like Nasty Pig. In terms of a very big collab, I would love to do something with Aquaria from RuPaul’s Drag Race or a makeup collab with Jeffree Star, maybe a lil’ fuzzy palette or something.
When you feel uninspired: I don’t watch runways and I don’t go through magazines. I try not to steep myself in mainstream ‘normal’ influence. Inspiration kind of just hits me. I really wanna do a collection based on the late 90s early 00s romcoms and call it Fetch. So cool right!?
Advice you wish you had 5 years ago: Floss! Ask for help more. I have a lot of pride for whatever reason. It’s cliché, but put yourself first. And don’t date all of your managers when you first move to Vancouver. Also, don’t take pills off the floor of the club! But probably not many people other than me need to be warned off that lol.
In 5 years, find me: Probably in rehab. But hopefully, I’ve reached my goal of high impactful runways and killer underwear line and have a dog—specifically a teacup chihuahua. I know their breeding is bad but they’re so fucking cute.