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Six Lessons from Fashion Mogul Vera Wang on Her Birthday

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Today is legendary designer Vera Wang’s 64th birthday and we want to celebrate her career. After being turned down for the editor-in-chief position at Vogue (she worked as an editor there starting in the 1970s), she went on to work for Ralph Lauren as design director for accessories. While preparing for her own nuptials in 1989, Wang became frustrated with the lack of stylish wedding dresses available. Thus began her career as one of the most famous bridal dress designers of all time.

She sketched a design, commissioned a dressmaker to tailor the gown for $10,000, and the rest is history. Her name has truly become synonymous with weddings. Wang has designed wedding dresses for Chelsea Clinton, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Garner, and Hilary Duff amongst many others. She has also expanded into couture evening wear, which is often sported by the hollywood crowd, as well as a lower priced bridal line sold at David’s Bridal, a crystal and china collection, and a jewelry line with Kohl’s. A former competitive figure skater, Wang also designed skating consumes for Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan for the Olympics. She has built a multimillion dollar lifestyle brand.

In June 2005, she won the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year and in 2006 she was awarded the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award from the Savannah College of Art and Design. In other words, she is extremely accomplished and successful. Here’s what we can learn from this iconic designer and mogul.

1) Study your industry and its stars

After leaving figure skating, Wang went to work for Vogue. She was promoted to Senior Fashion Editor within her first year and remained in that position for 15 years. She went on to Ralph Lauren to work as an accessories design director and learn from his expertise.

“Don’t be afraid to take time to learn,” said Wang. “It’s good to work for other people. I worked for others for 20 years. They paid me to learn.”

2) Do look for the spaces where there are opportunities

Though Wang loved designing sportswear, she knew there was more opportunity in the bridal space. In an interview with Vogue she said, “It just had not evolved. There was no modernity of necklines; there was no understanding of the tailoring. There was no relationship between a wedding dress and fashion. There was no good taste, either. I realized that I could make an impression in terms of changing and readdressing the whole industry of bridal.” She brought bridal gowns into the real fashion space.

3) Do understand your business (even if you are on the creative side)

By 2011, Wang’s company’s annual sales were an estimated $700 million. “We creative people don’t like worrying about it, but to be in business today, you have to face the reality of the business climate,” Wang said once. “I’ve redefined my business model constantly.”

4) Always think of who you are designing for

“All those years of skating and dancing have carried over. I can’t design anything without thinking of how a woman’s body will look and move when she’s wearing it,” she said. She designs for women and she also is now factoring in their lifestyles. “Just because you’re from a city ten miles outside of St. Paul,” she told The Wall Street Journal, “it doesn’t mean you don’t read magazines, or the incredible Internet, and what’s going on in the world. I never, ever take a client, or women, for granted.” This is why she has has partnered with more affordable department stores. She knew she had to factor in a different price range and more casual look if she wanted to stay relevant.

“Women don’t run around in ball gowns, I’m sorry to say.”

5) Do work tirelessly

Wang has been regarded as a hard worker from her very first days at Vogue. Hired as a fashion assistant at the legendary magazine, she showed up in a a white YSL shirtdress, platform shoes, and long red nails, according to Fashion editor Polly Mellen told her, “We do a lot of work on our hands and knees here. Not in Saint Laurent white crepe de Chine.” She ran home and came back to the office in jeans, hair up, and no long nails. Mellen said later, “And from there on, she showed her colors,” Mellen later recalls. “No such thing as too hard; no such thing as tickets to the theater tonight! She never stopped.”

6) Do take risks

Wang was one of the first designers to embrace celebrity dressing. “I jumped into celebrity dressing when it was pretty new,” Wang said. “There had been a moment of Scaasi with Barbra Streisand and Bob Mackie with Cher, but not in more recent times, so I jumped in with Valentino and Armani, and there was an article in Women’s Wear about how I was dressing Sharon Stone.” Stone’s appearance in a white blouse and gorgeous satin purple skirt to the 1998 Oscars put Wang on the map as a couture evening wear designer.

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Fashion #Fashion Designers #Celebrity News Career Advice
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Join the conversation:

I love that story about how she went home to change to be ready to work in the proper clothes. It really shows her dedication even at the start of her career.

I love Vera Wang's emphasis on the importance of working for others for a while - "They paid me to learn." Love that!

I like her perspective of being paid to learn and taking your time. She didn't rush her career, but instead, let it evolve naturally. Truly and inspiration!

I love the idea of looking for spaces with new opportunities. Vera Wang created an empire just by thinking about the way she would want to wear a dress. So inspiring!

Maggie Seaver
Maggie Seaver

It just goes to show, that when you want and love something with passion, go after it!

This is so inspiring! I had no idea that Vera Wang was an editor at Vogue or a figure skater before she started designing wedding dresses...or that she held the same position for 15 years before being passed up for a promotion! This just goes to show you that women can have multiple careers over their lifetime. Even Vera Wang has experienced setbacks in her career but there are no limits to the entrepreneurial spirit!

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