by Nicole Wolverton
Nearly every interview with or article about fashion designer Vera Wang mentions her Chinese roots. It’s rare to see a reporter focusing on the ethnic background of, say, Coco Chanel or Diane von Fürstenberg, but with Wang it seems to be an unwritten rules that one must highlight her Otherness in this way. However, the true mark of Wang’s difference (at least in fashion) is not that her genetics aren’t rooted in Western whiteness, but that she became a name in the fashion world only when she turned forty.
Wang was born and grew up in New York City. She had the advantage of wealthy parents, attending elite schools and studying ballet, all of which led to an opportunity to compete in figure skating throughout her teen and early adult years. After graduating from the Sorbonne with a degree in art history, though, she hung up her skates and turned to fashion publishing with a job at Vogue magazine. By the age of 23 she was a senior fashion editor, a position she held for fifteen years.
It was only at the age of 38 that Wang ventured into the design side of fashion. She joined Ralph Lauren as a design director for accessories, but it didn’t take long—only two years—for her to strike out on her own:
[I]t was her own wedding that launched her bridal brand . . . Frustrated with racks of the requisite meringues and sugary confections at shops everywhere, she wanted a modern antidote. So she hired a dressmaker to achieve her own design—a simple gown of white sequins. The next year, with funding from her father, she launched her eponymous label to fill the niche for brides seeking similarly chic looks. “I saw it as a foundation for a business I could make a difference in and as something that could lead to other businesses,” she says. (Harper’s Bazaar, 2011)
And it did lead to other businesses. Today her name is attached to clothing, china, shoes, mattresses, luggage, and fragrance, as well as a lower priced bridal line for the David’s Bridal chain. She has designed figure skating costumes. Her empire is worth a reported $1 billion, all of which has been amassed since she turned 40. Wang, who will be 66 in June of this year, credits her diverse experience with helping her succeed. “I wear many hats,” she said in an interview with Business of Fashion. “I have to be a promoter, a designer, a costumer of movie stars and celebrities, and a businesswoman.”
Nicole Wolverton is the author of The Trajectory of Dreams. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and pets, and grew up in Berwick, Pennsylvania.
Homepage image courtesy Miss Owl