Long before Vera Wang was designing fabulous gowns and wedding dresses for Hollywood movie stars such as Heidi Klum, Jessica Simpson and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Vera was an esteemed fashion editor for Vogue.
How did a U.S. figure skating champion ice skater and the daughter of a United Nations translator and businessman climb to the top of the fashion industry?
Wang was born on June 27th, 1949 and it wasn't long before Wang's father, a successful oil and pharmaceuticals businessman, begin exposing his young daughter to the world of global fashion. Wang's parents migrated to New York City in the mid-1940s where they raised Vera in the city's wealthy Upper East Side. A fixture on the fashion scene, Wang often accompanied her mother to Paris to view shows for Christian Dior, Balenciaga and other notable fashion houses.
After attending the University of Paris, Vera Wang later studied theater at Sarah Lawrence College just north of New York City. It was while at Sarah Lawrence that Wang shifted her focus to Art History.
Besides being a well-educated and internationally savvy New Yorker, Wang was also an incredibly talented ice skater. In fact, Wang competed professionally as a teenager, and even placed in the 1968 and 1969 U.S. National Championships.
In 1971, after not making the U.S. Olympic team, Wang gave up her skating career and went to work for Vogue Magazine. By the remarkable age of 23, she was promoted to senior fashion editor. Working at Vogue for 15 years, Wang was able to witness and influence the changing styles of her generation. Leaving Vogue for Ralph Lauren, Wang took her years of fashion expertise from the magazine and began her role as a design director for the company's accessories program.
In 1989 Wang married her longtime boyfriend Arthur Baker. While preparing for her nuptials, she became underwhelmed by the industry's bridal wear options. Unable to find a dress to her liking, and being a natural self-starter, Wang designed her own dress and paid a dressmaker to create a custom wedding gown. The following year, Wang decided to fill the gap she had experienced in the wedding market and began to sell her own line of bridal gowns from a design salon in New York's Carlyle Hotel.
Her designs quickly became a favorite of celebrities, but Wang rose to international prominence when she combined her passions for fashion design and figure skating. At the 1994 Winter Olympics, Wang unveiled a hand-made outfit for star skater and silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan.
It's possible that Wang has been so successful as a designer because she has been able to translate her creative skills and training into smart business decisions. Wedding dresses didn't always constitute high fashion; Wang saw that a specialty niche existed and was able to fill it to great success.
Since that watershed moment in bridal fashion, Wang has ascended to the pinnacle of wedding design; A-list actors, entertainers and even public figures like Chelsea Clinton have worn her wedding gowns.
But even after all of this global recognition and success, Wang continued to innovate and evolve her brand. Today, Wang's line also includes housewear, fragrance, jewelry and shoes.
Wang has received numerous awards throughout her career, from a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Council of Fashion Designers of America Womenswear Designer of the Year award.
For aspiring designers looking to Wang as a mentor, it's instructive to remember to always seize opportunities when they present themselves. Likewise, incorporating training and experience from other fields may even strengthen your work in the world of fashion design.