Born: New York City, 27 June 1949. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A. in Art History, 1971; studied abroad at the Sorbonne, Paris, during her sophomore year in college. Family: Married Arthur Becker, 1989; children: two daughters. Career: Fashion editor, Vogue, 1971-87; design director, Ralph Lauren, 1987-89; opened Vera Wang Bridal House, 1990; took classes and taught herself design techniques, designed hand-beaded ensemble for figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, 1994 Olympics; introduced Vera Wang Made to Order couture collection, 1996; authored first book, Vera Wang on Weddings, October 2001; signed an exclusive license agreement with Unilever Cosmetics International to develop a signature fragrance in spring 2002. Awards: Chinese American Planning Council's Honoree of the Year award, 1993; Girl Scout Council's Woman of Distinction award, 1994; elected member, Council of Fashion Designers of America, 1994. Address: Vera Wang Bridal House, 225 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018, U.S.A. Website: www.verawang.com .
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Vera Wang was exposed to fashion early in her life through her mother's style and her affluent upbringing on Manhattan's East Side. Her parents were strong role models. Her mother, Florence Wu, a
After graduation from college in 1971, Wang began working for Vogue magazine. At the end of her first year, she was promoted to fashion editor, the youngest in Vogue 's history. In a nostalgic piece written for the magazine in March 2001, editors said of Wang, "As a young fashion editor, she used the perfection she learned as a skater to produce shoots with an ice-cool edge." Despite a few fashion-shoot snafus, Wang held the position for the next 16 years.
After her stint at Vogue, Wang worked as a design director at Ralph Lauren; her responsibility included overseeing 13 accessory lines. Throughout her career, she wanted to be a fashion designer and this desire started to grow while she was shopping for a wedding gown for her upcoming nuptials to Arthur Becker in 1989. Frustrated with the gowns she saw, she designed her own and hired a dressmaker to create it at a cost of $10,000. Discovering a market niche for contemporary and elegant wedding gowns, in 1990 Wang opened her own bridal boutique with financial backing from her father in the upscale Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York. She carried elegant bridal wear by well-known designers, but also to design wedding gowns herself.
Her first international attention as a designer came when she designed Nancy Kerrigan's skating outfit for the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. In her march 2001 profile in Vogue Wang wrote, "I felt as though my life had come full circle; I didn't make it to that level of competition, but my clothes did." Most notably, her designs are rich with luxurious fabrics and very classic lines. Her name alone conjures up images of fabulously simple wedding gowns. Brides as glamorous as Sharon Stone and as traditional as Karenna Gore have sought her out for their special day.
Wang has revolutionized the way people look at bridal dresses— transforming them in the last decade from cookie-cutter froufrou concoctions to stylish, couture-look gowns taking into consideration that brides might actually be grown up and want sophisticated dresses. "Before we brought sexuality to weddings," she said, most brides "looked like the bride on top of a cake, very decorated," she stated to USA Weekend in May 1997. Her ready-to-wear wedding dresses average $3,500.
The next sensible step in her career was to begin designing eveningwear. "Fashion offers no greater challenge than finding what works for night without looking like you are wearing a costume," says Wang. The world's most fashionable women, including Jane Fonda, Helen Hunt, and Kate Capshaw, quickly embraced her eveningwear. Celebrities continue to seek her advice on their most important appearances. Along with her bridal and eveningwear, Wang offers Vera Wang Made to Order, a collection of couture designs, fur, and footwear at her boutique. Her designs can also be found at Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Neiman Marcus.
In 1997 Wang and Italian shoe company Rossimoda developed a line of women's dress shoes, catering to the designs of her evening and bridal gowns. The shoes have been very popular, given the design and platform heel that gives women height. "Clothes are my passion and my knowledge. I've studied fashion from every angle—historically and critically, cerebrally and emotionally." She understands how a woman wants to feel in her clothes. "Dressing celebrities gets you noticed. But I really do design for myself. And when my husband says I look sexy, I know I'm going to have a good night," she told InStyle magazine in December 2000.
Wang is a genius when it comes to understanding the fit of clothing. In her InStyle profile, she said, "For me, the magic is in weightless clothes, cutting armholes that add grace, cleverly exposing the best parts and sensuously draping fabric over less fabulous ones, offering enough internal support to allow a woman to feel secure while being totally comfortable. A woman is never sexier than when she is comfortable in her clothes."
Vera Wang's first signature fragrance launched in spring 2002, under a licensing agreement with Unilever Cosmetics International. Her first book, entitled Vera Wang on Weddings, became available in bookstores in 2001.
—Donna W. Reamy