From Dress Design to Creating a Wedding Empire – the Story of Vera Wang
What does the perfect wedding dress look like? If you’ve always dreamt of walking down the aisle in a fairytale gown, you’ve probably heard of Vera Wang. A bridal household name known worldwide, Vera Wang has become the Queen of crafting fairytale wedding dresses for brides-to-be in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life!
Together with her bridal gown business, Wang also creates unforgettable memorable bridesmaid dresses and everything else in between - from red-carpet couture to shoes, jewelry and even classy event evening wear!
Nevertheless, building a name for herself was not a walk in the park. Even though she spent 15 years working as a senior editor at Vogue, and 2 years working for Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang first tested the designer waters by accident and surprisingly, by designing a wedding dress for herself!
The beginning of a world-famous bridal empire was underway, and Vera Wang was the master of strings and puppets in her craft.
Read her story of success here:
Early Life and Figure Skating
Vera was born on June 27, 1949, in New York City, as a child of Chinese emigrants. Her mother worked for the United Nations, as a translator, while her father was a businessman. Wang attended the Chapin School of American Ballet, but far from dancing, she always nurtured a love for figure skating. Having trained since the age of six, and even competed professionally in her teens, Vera was strictly devoted to making a career of figure skating.
In 1968, Wang and her partner, James Stuart, competed in the US Figure Skating Championships, which earned Vera a feature in the Sports Illustrated: Faces in the Crowd issue that aired in January of the same year. Even though an aspiring figure skater with the ambition of making the US Olympic team, Wang unfortunately didn’t make the final cut. Right there and then, Wang let go of her longtime skating dream and decided to entirely derail the course of her career.
Considering her natural affinity for art, Wang enrolled in the Sarah Lawrence College and got her degree in art history in 1971. Her first fashion-wise engagement happened over the summer, when she scored a position at the Yves Saint Laurent store, located near her home. While studying, Wang spent one year at Sorbonne, Paris, which, as she puts it, turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Recalling that period of her life, Wang noted that her French boyfriend at the time once asked her if she wanted to have a good and long life, or to live fast and die quickly. A question to ponder, indeed, this statement got Vera loving life and living it to the fullest, never once assuming where this journey would ultimately take her.
Entering the Fashion World in Style
Soon after Vera graduated from college, she got her first more serious job – at Vogue!
With a passion for fashion, and within a year, Wang climbed the ladder of success and earned herself a promotion to a senior fashion editor.
The fact that Vera accomplished it all in such a short timespan is impressive in itself, especially given the fact that she was the youngest person to become a senior fashion editor at the time.There was no stopping Vera now, and she continued working hard at Vogue for 17 years, until she outgrew her role and wanted to become the editor-in-chief. Once she was turned down for the position, Wang took it as a sign to move on, and so, in 1987, she left Vogue for Ralph Lauren. Ah, the drama!
Versa’ new position at Ralph Lauren was a design director for accessories, a role she managed to perfection for two years. During this period, Vera learned aplenty about the business and fashion in general and ultimately created a total of 18 accessory lines for the brand.
It is safe to say that the experience she gained while working for Ralph Lauren would turn fruitful for the wedding product lines she was yet to undertake.
From Wedding Plans to Dress Designs
In 1989, Vera Wang was planning her wedding with Arthur Becker, and finding the right dress was a must. However, the search was not as easy as she hoped and nothing the stores offered rang a bell of the perfect dress. So, instead of looking further, Vera decided to design her first dress, and her first ever wedding dress while at it. The very making of the dress cost around $10,000 but the outcome was nothing short from priceless. Although confronted by the narrowed-down wedding dress options for mature brides (she married at the age of 40), Vera suddenly saw a business opportunity. If she had trouble finding a dress, how must other, older brides have felt?
Driven by this spike of inspiration to fulfill every bride’s wedding dress dream, in 1990, Vera Wang finally opened her first dress store. A bridal empire was in the works of becoming a reality, and Vera Wang was leading the pack!
Starting a Business at 40
Quitting from Ralph Lauren and starting her own business meant taking a great risk for Vera Wang. Leaving the fashion industry took its toll when she stopped being invited to fancy, fashion-oriented parties, so she lost her connection to prominent designers. Plus, she had no real experience in the wedding industry or any knowledge for that matter, but that wouldn’t set Wang back from fulfilling her goals.
In March 1990, after properly exploring the market and asking her father for a $4 million loan, Vera opened her first bridal store on Madison Avenue, New York City.
Initially, her store sold other designers’ dresses that would meet the needs of the modern bride. Some of the designer names she sold included Christian Dior, Carolina Herrera, and Guy Laroche. Interestingly, Wang’s Vogue colleagues supported her in her venture and even paid tribute to her work by writing an article that helped jumpstart her wedding dress design career.
Once the brides started pouring in, the store turned out to be an utter success, and Vera never looked back from designing custom-made wedding gowns again.
She designed her first wedding dress in 1992, and the brides immediately fell head over heels with her simplistic yet impactful creations.
From Designer Dresses to Red Carpet Looks
Even though her bridal business was booming, Vera Wang never completely quit her first love, figure skating. In both 1992 and 1994, Wang got back to the sport in an unusual way, by designing the costumes for the US figure skating team competing at the Winter Olympic Games. A strategic move, indeed, this decision ultimately brought Vera Wang an international recognition. One thing soon led to another, and before you know it, Vera was designing everything she could get her hands on- from wedding attire to red carpet outfits for celebrities.
In 1995, only 5 years after first opening her store, Wang made $10 million in sales and showcased and sold her evening wear at Barneys New York, Saks 5th Avenue, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Nashville, Seattle, and Neiman Marcus. Come 1996, the designer presented a collection of exclusive bridesmaid dresses, and by 1997, Vera Wang became the bridal staple for class and elegance.
Today, her designs can be found almost anywhere around the globe and testify to her rise in fashion’s hall of fame.
The Rise of an Empire
There’s no denying that Vera Wang’s life was a mere rollercoaster ride. In 1998 she had her first New York fashion show and by 2001, she had made a recognizable bridal guide called Vera Wang on Weddings, where she shared every bride’s must-haves. In that same year, Wang also released her fragrance, and by 2002, she launched her Vera Wang China and Crystal Collection.
Throughout 2006, Vera aimed to become closer to the everyday woman, so she created a line called Simply Vera- a ready-to-wear collection for the sophisticated woman. In the years that followed, Wang expanded her business in creating eyewear and designing tuxedos, and opened a few stores in Australia and Korea. She also took part in the movie industry, taking several roles in TV shows, such as Gossip Girl, Ugly Betty, and Bride Wars.
In 2019, she presented her Spring/Summer 2020 collection at the New York Fashion Week, whilst simultaneously celebrating her 30-year anniversary in the business.
Awards and Achievements
Many received awards testify to Vera’s’ devotion and hard work and the impact she had made upon the world of fashion.
In 1993, she won the Chinese American Planning Council’s Honoree of the Year Award; while in 1994 she was selected as a member at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). The Council honored her with an award for Womenswear of the Year in 2005, while in 2013, they also presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
In May of 2006, the Savannah College of Art and Design presented Wang with the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2018, she was ranked 34th on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women, and in 2019 she was honored with the Sandra Taub Humanitarian Award by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. All these awards and achievements make a small fragment to encapture and celebrate Vera’s raw talent and undisputed design skills.
Vera Wang – Never Too Old for Success
Without a doubt, Vera Wang is one of the most recognizable names in the fashion industry today.
It is her drive, her passion, as well as personalized designs that echo a call for inspiration to women who crave to become the masters of their own creative vision and leave a timeless imprint on society as we know it.