Born: 27 June 1949 Nationality: American Lives: New York Education: The Chapin School (New York), The School of American Ballet (New York), Sarah Lawrence College (New York), The Sorbonne (Paris)
The word ‘icon’ is bandied around like nobody’s business in the fashion world but that’s not to say there aren’t those who are truly deserving of the title.
Case in point: ‘iconic’ US designer Vera Wang, the former Vogue fashion editor who went on to become the biggest name in bridal and on the red carpet. Many an A-list member – Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham, Hilary Duff, Chelsea Clinton and the list goes on – were married in a ‘Wang’. Not that one has to be a Hollywood star dream of tying the knot in one of her sophisticated creations.
Cementing her status as a star in her own right, Wang was awarded the Légion d’Honneur (France’s most prestigious honour) during Paris fashion week earlier this month. A soiree at the Musée de l’Armée [a national military museum] attended by the likes of Donna Karan and Alber Elbaz paid homage to Wang’s stellar career and her ongoing love affair with Paris.
Credit: Vera Wang
“Today, we celebrate your lifelong friendship with France in the name of our deepest shared values, beauty, fraternity, and humanism, but most of all, we recognise you as one of our own,” said the French ambassador to the US Gérard Araud as he introduced Wang before awarding the designer with the esteemed red ribbon medal.
Wang then spoke of first discovering Paris during her stint as art student at the Sorbonne and her obsession with the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique. Born in New York to Chinese immigrant parents, she competed as a professional figure skater in her teens but gave up her ambitions when she landed a job at Vogue America after college (she graduated with an art history degree) swiftly working her way up the magazines ranks to become one of its youngest fashion editors.
Credit: Vera Wang
“It is kind of insane really when I think back on it. It gives you an education that is parallel to none. You had the best hairstylists, the best makeup artists, the best new photographers, the best established photographers,” recalled Wang in an interview with The Business of Fashion. It was during her 15 years at Vogue that Wang struck up a friendship with the magazine’s now editor in chief Anna Wintour.
As fate would have it, Wang left Vogue in 1987 when she was turned down for the editor in chief position and joined the design team at Ralph Lauren. Two years later she designed her own wedding dress and the rest, as they say, is fashion history.
The first Vera Wang Bridal Boutique opened its doors in 1990 on New York’s swanky Madison avenue – catering to celebrities and socialites and selling couture gowns by the likes of Guy Laroche, Arnold Scaasi, Carolina Herrera and Christian Dior – before Wang decided to launch her own line.
That collection has, over time, transformed into a billion-dollar-a-year empire that extends beyond her highly coveted bridal dresses to ready-to-wear, lingerie, jewellery and engagement rings, homewares, fragrance and cosmetics.
Wintour fondly recalls her former colleague turned lifelong friend, “No one at Vogue was funnier. Or louder. Or more neurotic. Or more endearing.”
Not unlike Wang’s designs.