Vera Ellen Wang was born on June 27, 1949 in New York City to successful Chinese immigrants. From the age of six her childhood was largely spent at the ice rink, and she was competing on the national figure skating circuit by the end of high school. When her dreams of making the United States Olympic figure skating team fell short, she began a career in the fashion industry that has led her to become one of the most influential American designers worldwide.
After studying at the University of Paris and then completing a degree in art history from Sarah Lawrence College in 1971, Wang began her career in fashion at Vogue magazine as a sittings assistant. Within a year, she became the senior fashion director for the magazine (the youngest in the publication’s history), and would go on to hold that title for the next fifteen years. After being passed over for the role of editor-in-chief in 1987, Vera finally left Vogue to begin a brief two-year stint as the design director for Ralph Lauren.
Things began to take shape for Vera in 1989 after she became engaged to ex-husband Arthur Becker and began to plan her wedding. It was during this time she realized that there was a huge void in the wedding dress market for women who wanted something a bit more individual and sophisticated than the traditional, predictable wedding gown. With the financial backing of her father, an oil and pharmaceutical industry mogul, she left Ralph Lauren that same year and opened her own bridal boutique in 1990.
At first the store carried wedding gowns for various designers, but after a few years spent honing her craft Vera decided to branch out into design herself and started her own line of wedding gowns which would eventually make a household name in bridal fashion. It was the costumes she created for fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan for the 1994 Olympics, however, that first introduced her name to the general public, and she has since gone on to design skating costumes for Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek.
When celebrities began to take notice of Vera’s approach to the wedding dress, her star rose quickly as the appeal of a modern wedding dress became apparent to both Hollywood and fashion-conscious brides everywhere. Through the 1990’s and 2000’s Vera’s unique, elegant, and sophisticated wedding gowns appeared on the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Victoria Beckham, Chelsea Clinton, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Uma Thurman, Kate Hudson, Sharon Stone, and Ivanka Trump, just to name a few. She parlayed this success into creating made to order gowns for her non-famous well-to-do client base as well. Finally saw her business grow to include her now successful ready-to-wear line, which made its debut in 2000 at New York Fashion Week and has gained a large following including such prominent fans as First Lady Michelle Obama.
As Vera Wang’s popularity and reputation grew, so did her company, which now offers everything from signature fragrances to footwear, fine jewelry, handbags, housewares, and a book. She has even launched lower-priced diffusion line called Lavender by Vera Wang and two collaborative lines, Simply Vera with Kohl’s and WHITE by Vera Wang with David’s Bridal.
For Vera, her love for fashion and style are things that don’t cloud her vision, and her first and only focus has always been her customer. It is this passion and dedication to her customers, along with the seemingly endless appeal of her approach to fashion that has made Vera Wang such a monumental success. In June of 2013, the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awarded her their highest honor: the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to American fashion design.
At the age of 64 years young, Vera shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, and it certainly seems this remarkable woman is destined to become the queen of American fashion as we know it.
Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a culture and entertainment editor and blogger for the Direct TV blog. Aside from writing, his passions include all things design and fashion, as well as the arts, particularly photography. He lives in Chicago with a massive collection of vintage clothes and his Siamese cat, Horace.
Image credit: vogue.com