On this day, world-renowned designer Vera Wang turns 64. Although she started her career working as an editor at Vogue in the 1970s, she was later turned down for the position of editor-in-chief. Undeterred, Wang went on to work as design director for Ralph Lauren’s line of accessories. However, it wasn’t until she began preparing for her wedding in 1989 that Wang found her true calling. Frustrated with the lack of stylish options available, she created a business specializing in beautiful bridal gowns – quickly becoming one of the most famous designers in the industry.
For $10,000, she sketched a design and commissioned a dressmaker to tailor the gown–the beginning of her Wedding Dress Collection. Today, Vera Wang’s name is synonymous with weddings. She has designed wedding dresses for celebrities like Chelsea Clinton, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Victoria Beckham, and Jennifer Lopez; as well as expanded into other realms such as couture evening wear (often spotted on Hollywood stars), a cheaper bridal line at David’s Bridal, crystal and china collection, jewelry line with Kohl’s, etc. Wang is a former competitive figure skater who has designed skating outfits for Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan for the Olympic Games. She has also built a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand.
She is extremely accomplished and successful, to put it lightly. 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. Here’s what we can learn from this iconic designer and mogul.
1) Study Your Industry and Its Stars
After retiring from figure skating, Wang went to work for Vogue. She excelled in her position as Senior Fashion Editor and was promoted within her first year.15 years later, she left Vogue to join Ralph Lauren as an accessories design director where she learned 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 Spaces Where There Are Opportunities
Wang aspired to design sportswear but quickly realized the potential for growth in the bridal market. “It just had not evolved,” she told Vogue of her early observations. With an eye for modernity and taste, Wang sensed an opportunity to disrupt wedding fashion by bringing gowns into the real fashion space.
3) Do Understand Your Business (Even if You Are on the
By 2011, Wang’s company was making an annual profit of $700 million. “It’s not fun worrying about business matters, but if you want to stay in business these days, you have to be practical,” Wang said. “I’ve had to change my business model a lot.”
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 modern women, taking into consideration their active 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 woman, for granted.” She has partnered with more affordable department stores to keep herself relevant, as she needs to take into account a different price range and look.
“Women don’t run around in ball gowns, I’m sorry to say.”
5) Do Work Tirelessly
Wang has always been considered a go-getter, even from her early days at Vogue. When she was first hired on as a fashion assistant, she showed up to work looking polished and professional in a white YSL shirtdress, platform shoes, and long red nails–right off the bat impressing her colleagues, according to Vogue.com. 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, changed into jeans, put her hair up in a bun, and removed her 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 an early adopter of 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 at the 1998 Oscars in a white blouse and purple satin skirt put Wang on the map as a designer of couture evening wear.