New York, New York
Designer, founder, and CEO, Vera Wang Bridal
Vera Wang was born in New York City in 1949 to wealthy Chinese parents who had arrived in the United States during World War 11 (1939-45). Her father, Cheng Ching Wang, ran an international pharmaceuticals company, while her mother Florence had been a translator at the United Nations and was the daughter of one of China's last ruling warlords. As a youngster, Wang was taught to go after her dreams and she excelled in both ballet and ice skating. As a teenager, Wang and her partner, James Stuart, placed fifth in the junior pairs competition at the 1968 national ice skating championships.
"This business is my love and my life. It has allowed me to live a great lifestyle and I feel so lucky to love what I do. Maybe one day I will get sick of it, but really, I doubt it."
While she danced and skated, Wang attended such prestigious schools as the Friends Seminary and Chapin. She left Chapin after her junior year to train with Stuart for the 1968 Olympics. When her partner decided to abandon pairs in favor of singles, Wang's skating career was suddenly over. It was too late for her to return to singles and she had no partner for the pairs competition. Crushed and disillusioned, Wang enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she completed a degree in art history in 1971.
After leaving Sarah Lawrence, Wang was hired at Vogue magazine as a lower level assistant, which meant she ran errands and did whatever she was asked to do. By 1972, when she was just twenty-three years old, Wang was promoted to editor. For the next fifteen years she made a name for herself in the fashion industry as a writer and critic. In 1987, Wang left Vogue and went to work for fashion titan Ralph Lauren (1939-). As the design director for several lines of accessories, including belts, hats, bags, and jewelry, the editor-turned-designer loved being more immediately involved in the fashion world.
Two years into the job, Wang prepared to marry Arthur Becker, a golf company executive, whom she had met nine years earlier. Shopping for a wedding gown turned out to be a pivotal point in her life. Wang was very disappointed in the dresses she found. There were few styles to choose from, and even less variety in the fabrics that were being used. She finally opted for a custom-made satin gown with beads that cost $10,000.
Mere months after her June 1989 wedding, Wang set out to change the bridal industry by opening her shop, which would offer brides a wide variety of dresses to choose from. With a $4 million investment from her father, she formed Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. and rented a two-story space on New York City's Madison Avenue in March of 1990.
In the beginning Wang carried bridal gowns by top designers, but soon found herself sketching original designs. She developed her own line in 1992, dividing her designs into two offerings: ready-to-wear gowns and made-to-order dresses for women who wanted a truly original creation. Prices for the already completed, or off the rack dresses, ranged from $2,000 to $10,000; the custom dresses could cost as much as $30,000 or more.
What is hanging in Vera Wang's closet? She counts Jil Sander, the fashion house of Miuccia Prada, and Jean-Paul Gaultier among her favorite designers.
In 1993, Wang began designing eveningwear, which consisted of fancy dresses for all occasions. These became available at upscale department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, and Bergdorf Goodman in 1994. Wang also earned accolades by returning to her youth, in a way, designing outfits for ice skater Nancy Kerrigan (1969-) to wear in the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympic Games. It was a dream come true for Wang, since her own Olympic aspirations had been dashed. In 1994, Wang was also named one of the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York's Women of Distinction.
By the late 1990s, Wang had become the most famous bridal designer in the United States and her gowns were sought after by brides everywhere. She designed wedding gowns for many celebrities, including several Kennedy women, singer Mariah Carey (1969-), and Karina Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore (1948-). Other well-known faces have worn her eveningwear for special events. Wang became a particular favorite at the Academy Awards, with such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow (c. 1973-), Sharon Stone (1958-), Marisa Tomei (1964-), and Holly Hunter (1958-) sporting one-of-a-kind designs on the red carpet.
With a new century came a flurry of expansion for Wang and her internationally recognized bridal empire. Development deals for eyewear and tableware were signed, while her first book, Vera Wang on Weddings, was published by HarperCollins in October of 2001. Months later came the introduction of her first fragrance, Vera Wang, which caused a sensation at Saks Fifth Avenue, and later at other luxury retailers across the country. Wang then covered the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for Women's Wear Daily in February 2002, thrilled to be back on the ice and among the top skaters in the United States. Like Kerrigan back in early 1990s, Wang outfitted Nancy Kwan (1980-) for the competition and was proud of her small contribution to the Olympic games.
Calling herself a "shoe maven" in a 1998 interview with Footwear News, Vera Wang admitted to buying an average of two hundred pairs of shoes each year.
In 2002, Wang continued to have big plans for the future of her company. Her greatest wish is that her daughters, Cecilia and Josephine, will one day join the family business. "I have seen them take no interest in the company until very recently," she mentioned to Women's Wear Daily in December 2001. "I would love for either one of them to love this business as much as I do. It's a dream for me." Since Wang has been fortunate enough to make many of her dreams come true, few would bet against her in making this one materialize one day, too.
Wang and her family divide their time between a New York apartment on Park Avenue, two other homes in New York state, and a house in Palm Beach, Florida. On the weekends, Wang loves to play golf, and hopes to someday design a line of golf or athletic apparel for women.
Wang, Vera. Vera Wang on Weddings. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
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Lauro, Patricia Winters. "Vera Wang, the Celebrity Designer, Is Extending Her Brand." New York Times (February 4, 2002): p. C8.
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Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. [On-line] http://www.verawang.com (accessed on August 16, 2002).