Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd
Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd.
A Vera Wang creation is to the bridal industry what Jaguar is to the luxury car market—both are recognized immediately for their elegance and are unrivaled in beauty and distinction. In 1990, Vera Wang began designing wedding gowns in a small boutique in New York City. Less than a decade later, her business had grown into a retail empire worth an estimated $80 million, and had expanded to include not only one-of-a-kind gowns, but bridesmaid dresses, footwear, eveningwear, a signature fragrance, eyewear, and even fine china and crystal. Along the way, the Wang name came to mean top quality and originality. As the most respected name in bridalwear, and a rising star in eveningwear, Vera Wang's talent lies in her abiding respect for women and their desire to look their best.
Getting Her Start
Vera Wang, a former ballet dancer and ice skater, majored in art history at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. During college she spent one year abroad, studying at the famed Sorbonne in Paris, where she immersed herself in the country's culture and soaked up French fashion. After graduation in 1971, Wang was hired at Vogue magazine as an assistant. She quickly impressed her bosses and was named the magazine's youngest ever fashion editor in 1972, a post she held for the next fifteen years. Wang left Vogue to fulfill a dream: instead of writing about designers, she wanted to be one of them. In 1987, she got her wish when she was appointed a design director at the fashion house of Ralph Lauren (1939-).
In 1989, Wang was planning her wedding to Arthur Becker and was confounded by the lack of bridal gowns for older, more mature brides—she was forty at the time. Everywhere she went, the dresses were overdone with too many frills and lace; nothing she found was simple, elegant, or even remotely sexy. She ended up hiring a dressmaker to create a custom-made gown, which ended up costing $10,000. Despite the cost, Wang was happy with the dress and the wedding went off without a hitch. Her bridal adventures, however, got her thinking. Since she had such a difficult time finding the right dress, she was positive that other women had similar problems. Wang decided to open her own bridal salon, selling dresses from top designers around the world.
Vera Wang Bridal House at a Glance
- Employees: 250
- CEO: Vera Wang
- Major Competitors: Christian Dior; Dolce & Gabbana; Carolina Herrera; Jessica McClintock
- Notable Products: Vera Wang Ready-to-Wear; Vera Wang Made to Order; Vera Wang Luxe Eyewear; Vera Wang Eyewear Collection; Vera Wang fragrance and bath and body products
Birth of a Bridal Boutique
With start-up funds of $4 million from her father Cheng Ching Wang, chairman of the internationally known U.S. Summit Corporation, Wang rented a two-story showroom and shop in March 1990. Wang used a quarter of her father's investment to redecorate the boutique, which was located on Madison Avenue in New York City. While the work was being finished, she and her right-hand man, Chet Hazzard, sold wedding gowns from a hotel suite. Hazzard had formerly worked at the Anne Klein design house. In September 1990, Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. officially opened its doors. Wang's former colleagues at Vogue paid tribute to her with a six-page article, and soon prospective brides were flocking to the boutique.
- Vera Wang prepares for her wedding and cannot find a suitable dress.
- Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. opens on Madison Avenue, New York.
- Wang begins designing her own bridal gowns.
- She begins designing special occasion dresses.
- Wang's eveningwear collection becomes available at upscale retailers.
- Sharon Stone and Holly Hunter wear Wang creations to the Academy Awards.
- Company introduces bridesmaid dresses.
- Wang signs her first licensing agreement with Rossimoda, for shoes.
- The designer's first New York fashion show is held.
- Wang signs second licensing deal, for furs.
- Company partners with Unilever to create fragrance.
- Wang signs a license for eyewear; publishes first book.
- Wang's signature fragrance, Vera Wang, debuts and breaks sales records.
Wang gained international notice as a designer when she created skating outfits for American champion Nancy Kerrigan (1969-), who skated in both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics. This was a special triumph for Wang, who had skated competitively as a youth and had tried, but failed, to make the 1968 Olympic pairs team. In 2001, Wang commented to Vogue, "I felt as though my life had come full circle; I didn't make it to that level of competition, but my clothes did." Stepping outside bridal wear, Wang launched an evening gown collection in 1994, and by the following year her dresses were sought after by celebrities attending the Academy Awards, the movie industry's top award show. Both Sharon Stone (1958-) and Holly Hunter (1958-) wore Wang creations to the Oscars in 1995, earning considerable notice and acclaim for the up-and-coming designer.
By 1995, Wang's business was bringing in sales of about $10 million, due in part to her growing eveningwear collection. The evening dresses sold extremely well at such upscale stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, and later Nordstrom, frequently outselling other designers. Spurred by her success, Wang decided to enter the designer bridesmaid dress market. She introduced a collection of nearly three dozen pieces in the spring of 1996, featuring unique fabrics, styles, and muted colors.
In addition to increasing the size and scope of her collections, Wang opened more shops to keep up with a growing demand. Small in-store Wang boutiques were located in Barneys bridal department in both Chicago, Illinois, and Beverly Hills, California; others opened inside bridal marts in Nashville, Tennessee, and Seattle, Washington. Wang's second full-sized bridal boutique opened in early 1996 in Washington, D.C.'s famed Watergate apartment and shopping complex.
By 1997, Vera Wang was everywhere. She dressed a who's who list of celebrities attending such high-profile events as the inauguration party marking President Bill Clinton's (1946-) reelection, the Golden Globe awards, and the Academy Awards. Wang also entered into a partnership with Italian shoe company Rossimoda to develop a line of women's dress shoes to go with her evening gowns and bridal designs. An important element to her footwear designs was a slim platform heel, which made Wang's customers appear taller and slimmer. Wang offered a wide variety of comfortable, stylish shoes in satin, velvet, and suede, as well as specially designed fabric pumps that could be dyed to match wedding or bridesmaid dresses. As she commented to Footwear News in 1997, "It's about the whole picture, not just the dress. The wrong veil can ruin the look, and so can the wrong pair of shoes."
Wang hit a milestone in April 1998 when she presented her eveningwear collection at a New York fashion show for the first time. At a fashion show, various models wear clothes that were created by a specific designer and walk down a raised platform, called a runway or catwalk. The show was a success and Wang's collection was well received by store buyers and fashion critics alike. She then opened her first full-sized boutique inside Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco, California, in July. Although Wang had bridal shops within other upscale retailers, this was her first boutique besides the original store in New York City to carry both bridal and eveningwear collections, as well as accessories and shoes. In 1999, Wang signed her second licensing agreement, with the Newmont Group, for leather and furs to accent some of her finest gowns.
Wang's success led to greater social and professional responsibility as well. She turned her fall 1999 show, in Miami Beach, Florida, into a fund-raiser for two AIDS organizations, and months later was elected to the board of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America. In 2000, as Wang's company celebrated ten years in business, two major events took place. The first was an alliance with Unilever Prestige, a division of personal-care products giant Unilever, for Wang to create and market a signature fragrance. The second concerned Wang's store in New York, which would undergo a major renovation while the space next to it, which had been newly acquired, would be transformed into a new boutique featuring her bridesmaid collection, footwear selections, and her growing line of accessories.
Designer Vera Wang believes one secret to her company's success is customer service. Her staff does more than sell gowns and accessories, they offer brides advice on styling their hair, choosing shoes, jewelry, and flower arrangements, and coordinating dresses for bridesmaids.
By 2001, industry analysts estimated that the Vera Wang Bridal House and its shops were selling more than ten thousand custom-made wedding gowns each year, priced from $2,000 to more than $30,000 each. That same year, Wang extended her fashion empire to include eyewear when she signed a licensing deal with the Couteur Design Group and Kenmark Optical to design and sell both sunglasses and frames for prescription lenses. Commenting on the partnership to Women's Wear Daily in June 2001, Wang president Chet Hazzard said: "[This] is an important entry into a new product segment for the Vera Wang brand. Vera never stops with the dress, she is looking at the entire woman and, for her, this is the completion of the look."
In October 2001, Wang's first book, Vera Wang on Weddings was published by HarperCollins. The photo-filled coffee-table book offered advice and tips for the perfect wedding and reception and featured page after page of Wang's most lavish bridal designs. Writing the book was a labor of love, and turned out to be quite difficult. "I have a completely new appreciation for writers," Wang commented to Julee Greenburg of Women's Wear Daily, "This was one of the hardest things I ever did. This project was a way for me to get over my frustrations of not being able to reach those brides who will never buy a Vera Wang gown."
Wang also made plans for another new line of products, one frequently part of a bride and groom's gift registry—tableware and glassware. Signing its first ever licensing agreement, Wedgewood Waterford USA, the premier china and crystal producer, signed with Wang in 2001 to develop a collection of sophisticated tableware, decorative vases, wine glasses, and goblets.
Onward and Upward
The year 2002 was one of significant accomplishment for Wang. Her company now operated two factories, one in Florida and one in Ohio, along with dozens of boutiques to keep up with the ever widening range of Vera Wang merchandise. Her shoe line had also received a considerable boost. After the original licensing agreement with Rossimoda expired, Wang signed with Stuart Weitzman, one of the most respected names in the footwear industry. In February the designer's long awaited fragrance, Vera Wang, was launched. It arrived at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York on Valentine's Day and was an immediate success. The unique, femininely shaped bottles flew off the counters and shelves, breaking a record for the highest sales of a new perfume at Saks. Prices ranged from $300 for a full ounce to $65 for a smaller spray bottle.
Wang's fragrance line also included bath and body products, what she called "lingerie for the skin," available in an after-bath creme, shimmery body powder, and soap. These ranged in price from $20 to $45. After the fragrance launch came the first Vera Wang eyewear collection, a pricey line available only to optometrists for prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses. Another collection, for sale in luxury retail stores, debuted later in the year.
In February, Wang traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to write several articles about the women's figure skating competition in the 2002 Winter Olympics. A few months later, in May, Wang and several others were given a Spirit of Achievement Award by the National Women's Division of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Also honored were many New York City police officers, firefighters, and paramedics who responded to the World Trade Center disaster in 2001.
On average, four women can work for six months or more on one embroidered custom-made wedding gown designed by Vera Wang. The approximate cost of such a gown is $25,000.
From a bridal boutique in New York to a design empire worth an estimated $80 million, Vera Wang has come a long way in a relatively short time. The energetic designer, however, is far from finished. She would like to develop additional product lines including jewelry, purses, lingerie, swimsuits, athletic apparel, and prom dresses.
After her own unsuccessful search for the perfect wedding dress, American fashion designer Vera Wang (born 1949) created a business plan, started her own company, and filled a void in the bridal gown industry. Perhaps the best known name in bridal fashion, her contemporary yet often simple designs have adorned many brides.
Vera Ellen Wang was born in New York City, New York, to Cheng Ching Wang and Florence Wang on June 27, 1949. Her father, who spoke fluent English, was the son of a Chinese general. Her mother was the daughter of a Chinese politician, alleged to be a warlord. The couple had fled China after World War II, eventually marrying and settling in New York City. The Wangs also had a son, Kenneth, who was born 18 months after Vera.
Although Wang's father was the head of a multi-million dollar company which allowed his family an affluent lifestyle, the children were not given a free ride. Wang's parents instilled basic goals and values in their children. They encouraged them to pursue academic and athletic excellence, and to have integrity in what they did.
Wang's mother was considered a beautiful woman with excellent taste. She taught her daughter about style, and they enjoyed going to Paris fashion shows together. As noted on the official Vera Wang website, "Wang's fashion sense … came early in life."
Gave Up Skating for Fashion
In addition to clothes and ballet lessons, Wang loved ice skating. After receiving a pair of ice skates one Christmas, she began ice skating lessons at the age of eight. Always the competitor, she won her first regional championship at 12. Wang was usually on the ice by six o'clock in the morning so she could practice before school. Her day usually ended with more practice. As Wang shared in the A & E Biography video "Vera Wang: Attention to Detail," "ice skating was the first love of [my] life."
After completing high school, Wang enrolled at the Sarah Lawrence College. However, balancing school and ice skating became too much for her. There was not enough time to study and train, and this led to the greatest disappointment of her life; she chose to give up ice skating. As noted by A & E Biography, Wang recalled that after making this decision, she became depressed and moved to Paris. It was there that she seriously considered pursuing a career in fashion. Wang returned to school and earned a degree in art history in 1971, but a career in fashion was her dream.
Paid Dues in Fashion Industry
Wang's first job in fashion was at Vogue as an assistant to fashion director Polly Mellen. Wang took the opportunity to study and learn all she could about the fashion industry. Her hard work quickly paid off; Wang was named fashion editor at Vogue at the age of 23. She primarily served as "sittings" editor, the person in charge of the editorial fashion spreads that made up the heart of the magazine.
The work and the lifestyle were intense. Wang often worked seven days a week, and had little time for romance. She did enjoy the party scene, and went to Studio 54, a New York City hotspot in the late 1970s. However, Wang's work was not focused on design, and by the mid-1980s, she was ready for a change. A tired Wang took a leave of absence from Vogue and went to Paris for two years. Deciding she wanted to do something different, Wang left Vogue after 16 years, and in 1987, went to work for Ralph Lauren, where she was a designer for accessories.
Search for Dress Led to New Business
With a less frenzied pace at Ralph Lauren, Wang had more time for a personal life. She had met her future husband, businessman Arthur Becker, in 1980, at a tennis match. Wang shared with People Weekly that soon after they met, Becker started talking marriage, but she wanted to focus on her career. The pair dated off and on in the 1980s and were good friends. However, in the late 1980s, romance blossomed and the couple became engaged. Wang began to plan their wedding.
As Wang shared with A & E Biography, she went on a search for a perfect wedding dress and found a "sameness to everything." She told Jane Sharp of Biography Magazine, "I wanted something more elegant and subdued, but there wasn't anything. I realized the desire to fill that niche."
Forbes writer Lisa Coleman noted that Wang spent three months "looking for the perfect dress at several department stores and bridal boutiques" but felt the dresses were geared for the younger bride. Coleman continued that eventually, "Wang gave up and hired a dressmaker to create her own gown. The gown cost $10,000." Wang's experience became the inspiration for a new business venture.
However, the business idea had to wait. Wang and Becker married in June of 1989 and, according to A&E Biography, the 40-year-old bride began infertility treatments, as the couple wanted to have a baby right away. But soon, the infertility treatments took their toll, and Wang decided to quit her job at Ralph Lauren. The couple eventually adopted two daughters, Cecilia and Josephine, and set up their home in New York City.
In 1990, Wang's father thought the time was right for her to launch her own business and offered financial backing. She began her bridal gown business and opened her shop in the upscale Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York City.
According to the official Vera Wang website, "The Vera Wang label quickly took off, earning praise from the fashion elite for its luxurious fabrics, exquisite detailing and modern interpretation of classic lines." A & E Biography stated that Wang successfully used colors and innovative ideas in her dresses, adding that she knew how to "attract attention yet still be elegant at the same time." And Business Leader Profiles for Students noted that "Wang introduced her trademark use of 'illusion netting' in her gowns, a fabric that gave the illusion of bare skin." However, all this did not translate to immediate profits for her business.
While brides loved Wang's dresses, the fashion press was not so kind. As noted by A & E Biography, the fashion press saw her as an insider to the fashion industry who was getting special treatment. Others questioned her family's financial support to the business. Wang retorted, "Nothing replaces hard work."
In the beginning, Wang's success was achieved because of her service to the bride. It did not end with the dress. Wang told Coleman of Forbes that she wanted to help the women "that are running around looking for special dresses, looking to have everything taken care of because they have busy lives." Wang's employees discuss many aspects of the wedding with the bride, including jewelry, shoes, hairstyles, and bridesmaids' dresses, just to name a few. Wang concluded, "I'm creating an image, a brand and a name."
Designer to the Stars
Wang's business strategy was to succeed in the bridal gown industry first, then to expand into other areas. She made a splash during the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics when American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan wore her costumes. Wang later told Vogue, "I felt as though my life had come full circle; I didn't make it to that level of competition, but my clothes did." In 1993, she introduced a line of evening wear.
Wang has also dressed some of the top actresses in Hollywood, including Holly Hunter, Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan, Whoopi Goldberg, Helen Hunt, Kate Capshaw, and Charlize Theron. In Business Leader Profiles for Students, actress Sharon Stone remarked, "Vera's designs are very simple but not boring. Her clothes celebrate the person, they never overwhelm." A & E Biography concluded, "Dressing Hollywood was a sound business move for Wang."
In addition, Wang dressed some very famous brides. Singer Mariah Carey wore a dress with a 27-foot train when she married. Karenna Gore, daughter of then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and the world famous Barbie doll also wore Vera Wang dresses when they married. Wang also began designing costumes for American figure skater Michelle Kwan.
Company Thrived and Grew
Wang's vision has expanded beyond bridal gowns. Her first book, Vera Wang on Weddings, was released in October of 2001. Her first signature fragrance launched in spring 2002, under agreement with Unilever Cosmetics International. She launched the partnering men's fragrance in 2004. Wang opened a second store near her bridal shop that focused on her bridesmaid dress collection. Also in 2002 was the launch of Wang's collection of china and stemware for Wedgwood.
Wang moved on to more new endeavors in 2003. She designed uniforms for the Philadelphia Eagles cheering squad, who debuted their new look on Monday Night Football in September. Later that month, American actress Sarah Jessica Parker showed off Wang's new jewelry collection at the Emmy Awards. Women's Wear Daily commented, "The beautiful new jewelry underscores Wang's design aesthetic, fusing femininity, sensuality and subtlety." Wang launched a Silver and Gifts Collection in 2004 in collaboration with Towle Silversmiths which features barware, flatware, gift-ware and more.
A & E Biography noted that Wang "strives to do everything well, which is demanding and adds more pressure." She has admitted that she has to work hard to balance her business and family time, but she is excited about what the future will bring, as she challenges herself every day.
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A Competitive Youth
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.
Focus on Fashion
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.
For More Information
Wang, Vera. Vera Wang on Weddings. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Carr, Debra. "Wang's World: Wang's New Shoes Are for Sophisticated Ladies." Footwear News (May 5, 1997): p. 11.
"Chic to Chic." People Weekly (July 20, 1998): p. 129.
Coleman, Lisa. "A Designing Woman." Forbes (April 26, 1993): p. 118.
Diamond, Kerry. "Wang and Unilever Tie the Knot." Women's Wear Daily (March 17, 2000): p. 6.
Greenburg, Julee. "Vera Steps on the Gas." Women's Wear Daily (December 7, 2001): p. 6.
Kazanjian, Dodie. "Brides Made." Vogue (December 1990): p. 316.
Ku, Beulah. "Designs of Elegance and Style from Vera Wang." Asian Week (January 21, 1994): p. 12.
Lauro, Patricia Winters. "Vera Wang, the Celebrity Designer, Is Extending Her Brand." New York Times (February 4, 2002): p. C8.
Lorusso, Maryann. "Aisle Style." Footwear News (September 15, 1997): p. 10.
. "Retracing Her Steps." Footwear News (November 30, 1998): p. 4S.
Naughton, Julie. "The Scent of Matrimony." Women's Wear Daily (December 7, 2001): p. 7.
Sporkin, Elizabeth M. "Wedding Belle: When the Glitterarti Get the Urge to Merge, They Flock to Bridal Expert Vera Wang." People (July 8,1991): p. 65.
Wang, Vera. "The Agony and the Ecstasy." Women's Wear Daily (February 26, 2002): p. 16.
. "Ice Dreams." Time (February 18, 2002): p. G12.
. "Nostalgia." Vogue (March 2001): p. 130.
. "Vera's View." Women's Wear Daily (February 21, 2002): p. 6.
Witchel, Alex. "From Aisle to Runway: Vera Wang." New York Times Magazine (June 19, 1994): p. 22.
Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. [On-line] http://www.verawang.com (accessed on August 16, 2002).
Vera Wang Bridal House, Ltd.
American designer Vera Wang has become perhaps the best known name in bridal fashion. Since the early 1990s, her sleek, sexy, yet tasteful concoctions have been chosen by brides-to-be to showcase and enhance their beauty on their wedding day.
Wang was born in the late 1940s (sources variously cite 1948, '49, and '50 as her birthyear) in Manhattan, the daughter of Cheng Ching Wang, chair of a pharmaceutical company. Wang's mother, also of Chinese heritage, once worked as a translator at the United Nations and was the daughter of one of China's last feudal warlords. During World War II, Wang's parents both fled China, but were not yet married; her mother followed her future husband to the United States, an act that Wang has described as daring and rebellious for its time.
Wang grew up in relatively affluent surroundings. She took ballet lessons at New York City's School of American Ballet, and also skated competitively for many years. At the age of 17, she appeared on the cover of Paris Match, the French equivalent of People, in a story about her French skating partner, Patrick Pera. Despite the skating talent, Wang dreamed of going to art school, but her parents considered this a very impractical education. Instead she enrolled at New York's Sarah Lawrence College, where she earned a degree in art history that included a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. She later took graduate courses at Columbia University.
Wang met her future husband, Arthur Becker, in 1980 at a tennis game in Forest Hills, New York. They were married nine years later, and Wang resisted pressure to do so during much of that courtship. Her mother wondered why she focused on her career and not on beginning a family. Perhaps fitting for a designer of bridal gowns (a business she launched after she married), Wang was conscious of the commitment marriage entailed. "I was very aware of the responsibility, not just to try it out and see if it fit or not," Wang told Alex Witchel in the New York Times. She was 40 when she wed, and she and Becker hoped to have children right away, but encountered difficulties conceiving. They then began fertility treatments, an arduous, time-consuming process that led to Wang's decision to quit her job at Ralph Lauren. She eventually adopted two daughters, Cecilia and Josephine, and lives in a palatial 22-room apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Becker is the head of a golf-equipment manufacturing company. They also enjoy a house in Southampton and a country house in upstate New York that is actually a converted 200-year-old Dutch-style barn.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Wang was hired at Vogue magazine. It was a prestigious career debut, and marked Wang as a talented and creative newcomer to fashion. She was made editor in 1972, one of the youngest in the magazine's history, and primarily served as "sittings" editor, or the one in charge of the editorial fashion spreads that are the essence of the magazine. Still, the emphasis remained on editorial, not design, and Wang was eager to move on after 16 years of experience.
In 1987, she quit Vogue to become creative director for American designer Ralph Lauren. She also held the title of design director for accessories. Wang loved working on the other side—the first time she saw one of their handbags worn by someone on the street in New York, she was extremely excited, but her colleagues told her that she would get used to seeing her work nonchalantly walking past. "They were wrong," she told the New York Times. Wang stayed at Ralph Lauren for two years, and learned a great deal about the design end of the fashion industry. She has described Lauren, the man, as her mentor.
When she planned her 1989 wedding to Becker, Wang delved into the world of bridal fashion, and was dismayed at what she found. She realized that there was a large segment of young American women who wanted a more stylish version of the lace-and-tulle numbers that were standard fare in the bridal salons. With financing from her father, Wang launched the bridal line bearing her name in 1990 with a showroom located at the famed Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue. They were a hit from the start, but the high costs of design and the overhead weighed the balance sheet down, and—as she'd expected—Wang's business did not show a profit for its first few years.
There were other difficulties during her first decade, Wang told the New York Times. "After working for Ralph [Lauren], the same fabric houses I dealt with didn't know me once I was trying to start a business from thin air," she recalled. Still, Wang's vision translated into success where it mattered most—on the bride-to-be. Her company has two divisions: the ready-to-wear bridal, with dresses ranging in price from $2,500 to $5,000, and then a couture bridal line called Vera Wang Made to Order, with custom gowns at $10,000 and up.
Social and Economic Impact
By the mid-1990s Vera Wang was a recognized "designer" name to many American women for her stylish yet classic bridal creations. Capitalizing on the success of this Wang launched a couture line of evening wear in 1994 to be sold in upscale department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. These designs have been worn by Academy Award attendees such as actresses Sharon Stone and Holly Hunter, effectively providing high-profile publicity for all of Wang's designs. Wang also created competition outfits for figure skater Nancy Kerrigan for several years, including the gold costume worn during Kerrigan's much-watched appearance at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Yet it is Wang's bridal gowns that have made the most impact on the market. Few designers like to create such gowns, since they're generally expected to be one color, somewhat frothy, and have fairly traditionalrequirements that leave little room for creativity. Wang has filled a niche that helps stylish young women look sophisticated—yet still princess-like—on their wedding day. She has even introduced touches of color here and there. Wang's star has risen, wrote Witchel of the New York Times, because of her daring in "challenging the status quo, introducing fashion (black velvet trim) and—gasp—sex to this creaky trade of institutional virginity."
Vera Wang gowns have been worn by some of the most famous brides of the 1990s, such as pop singer Mariah Carey for her extravagant nuptials to Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola. This particular dress boasted a 27-foot train. "Women are real works of art," Wang told the New York Times, "and I try to remember that that's what makes it worthwhile, that it's not just about making money and seeing how big the distribution can be . . . I wanted to be exclusive by taste, not money. Small and caring. I look at every dress in the store. I had a whole glove line made up that didn't exist. And I was thinking wouldn't it be nice to take off your shoes, have a Diet Coke and not be bride No. 5,076 for the month of June."
Chronology: Vera Wang
c. 1949: Born.
1972: Hired at Vogue.
1987: Becomes design director for accessories at Ralph Lauren.
1989: Marries Arthur Becker.
1990: Launches bridal line.
1994: Gains additional renown for designing competition outfits for Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Wang has received awards from Asian-American civic groups and is active in the Asia Society in New York City. The Girl Scout Council of Greater New York honored her in 1994, and she was elected that same year to the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Sources of Information
Contact at: Vera Wang Bridal House, Ltd.
225 W. 39th St.
New York, NY 10018
The Asian American Almanac. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.
Notable Asian Americans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.
"Vera Wang and Arthur Becker." People, 13 February 1995.
Witchel, Alex. "Vera Wang." New York Times, 19 June 1994.
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.
Vera Wang on Weddings, New York, 2001.
Sporkin, Elizabeth M., "Wedding Belle: When the Glitterarti Get the Urge to Merge, They Flock to Bridal Expert Vera Wang," in People, 8 July 1991.
Carr, Debra, "Wang's World," in Footwear News, 5 May 1997.
Zaslow, Jeffrey, "Vera Wang," in USA Weekend, 8 May 1997.
"Different Strokes," in WWD, 24 September 2000.
"Vera Wang, by Vera Wang," in Vogue, March 2001.
Woods, Vicki, "Taking the Plunge," in Vogue, September 2001.
"Unilever Cosmetics International," in Cosmetics International, 10 September 2001.***
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 United Nations translator, and her father, Cheng Ching, an oil and pharmaceuticals tycoon, gave Vera and her brother, Kenneth, a very comfortable childhood. When she was seven years old, Wang's parents bought her a pair of ice skates for Christmas. She fell in love with skating and competed during her early teens and twenties. She proved herself a talented figure skater, competing at the U.S. National Championships and placing fifth in 1968 and 1969 with her skating partner, James Stuart. "The only thing that I loved as much as skating were clothes," she once commented to People magazine in July 1991. It was a good thing, because not qualifying for the 1968 Olympic team and not wanting to tour with an ice show gave Wang a new career direction.
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