As she marks 30 years in the fashion industry, Vera Wang reflects on the evolution of her design journey and the future of her eponymous brand as she prepares to go back to business in a world that is still battling a pandemic.

It has only been a hot minute since Vera Wang posted her “backyard bling” photo to Instagram and wound up becoming the talk of the town due to her trim waist and sculpted abs. To say that she is in great shape for her age—Wang just turned 71 in June—is an understatement; she looks fantastic and feels it, too. Being quarantined in Miami with who she lovingly refers to as her “workday fashion family” pushed her to exercise more; suddenly, she is everyone’s latest fitspiration and no one believes she’s a day over 50. Her secret? “Work, sleep, a vodka cocktail and not much sun,” the fashion designer told a fan on Twitter.

“It’s crazy,” says Wang, who once dreamt of becoming an Olympic figure skater (she was even inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame). “Everyone knows how old I am. I have been photographed in bathing suits before, but it is not because I’m advertising myself or anything of the sort. As a designer, I am usually on the downlow because when I create something for another woman, the focus is on her and on my work.”

Celebrating 30 years in fashion is no simple feat. In a fickle industry where trends come and go, and where recognition and relevance can be short-lived, nothing is guaranteed. For Wang, who broke the mould in bridal wear when she came out with a collection of black wedding dresses, being bold enough to make changes is necessary. “I was never afraid of change. I am always on the constant lookout for new things that can push me to go further. This is the challenge of what I do, and why I love it. I am never satisfied.”

Her secret? 'Work, sleep, a vodka cocktail and not much sun'.
Vera Wang

An art history graduate, Wang began her career at Vogue magazine, where she became a senior fashion editor when she was just in her early twenties. “I love to look at magazines; I’m a bit of a junkie in that department. I enjoy knowing what is going on. Magazines are a gateway to culture in general—to how people are living.” She later moved to Ralph Lauren to work as an accessories design director. The thought of becoming a fashion designer did not even cross her mind until she was planning her own wedding, finding herself frustrated because she was unable to find a dress she liked. Her father, a businessman, saw an opportunity: there was a lane in bridal wear that Wang’s ideas could fill, and, at the time, it was a low-risk gamble.

In an interview with fashion media company The Business of Fashion, Wang mentioned that people have done much better than she has in shorter periods of time, but she fully understood that she was moving on a different trajectory. “People still ask me why I started so late,” she tells Tatler. “To me, it didn’t feel late at all—more like a normal sort of progression. Starting later in life allowed me to come in with a maturity not just in the design sense, but in the business sense as well. Being in fashion isn’t just about your self-expression, but also about fully understanding the industry you are in.” She has received a multitude of incredible honours for her work, among which are the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Womenswear Award for Designer of the Year in 2005, the Andre Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006 and the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

I was never afraid of change. I am always on the constant lookout for new things that can push me to go further. This is the challenge of what I do, and why I love it. I am never satisfied.
Vera Wang

Her continuous quest for innovation is a challenging one. At the time, her ideas for bridal wear truly were one of-a-kind; amidst a sea of pristine whites and frothy ivories, Wang’s asymmetrical, striking creations—whether they came in black, sage, framboise, or something else altogether—stood out in stark contrast. Even when she expanded her lines to include bespoke evening gowns and RTW, each creation was a culmination of meticulous technique paired with unparalleled attention to detail. And while other bridal wear designers have since followed suit, Wang will go down in history as the progenitor of the edgy wedding gown movement. “But you do not know if you are truly unique, as there is no one point of reference. You have to realise that everything has been done before,” she reflects.

Her Fall 2020 bridal collection marks her three decades in this business. Featuring sleek, body-skimming silhouettes and a marked absence of colour, it reveals yet another side of this multifaceted designer—a noteworthy observation, given this is the 60th time she has done this. The thigh-high slits and airy fabrics are both romantic and rebellious, painting the picture of a rock ’n roll Los Angeles bride. “I was nostalgic for the attitude of the city, and so I conceptualised my work around the modern LA dream,” says Wang. “Aside from that coolness it is known for, there’s also the culture and the politics, which I think is very important that we pay attention to.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, operations have been put on hold. Like many other retailers, Wang had to close the doors to her boutiques in accordance with government- issued guidelines. In July, several stores have opened, but on a by-appointment-only basis. And with events such as big weddings and awards ceremonies postponed indefinitely, it will certainly take some time for business to pick up speed. “We were very much affected,” Wang reflects. “Right now, we’re trying to help by keeping our own doors open. It is good to recognise the people that work for us; if I did not have anyone to sew, I’d have a big problem with the execution. No one could have prepared for this. And aside from this concerning health situation, political issues such as racism were met with much attention on a global level because of the George Floyd incident. It makes you realise that regardless of what happens in a particular place or country, we are one world.

Like most of us, Wang is playing the waiting game, but she has some surprises up her sleeve. “There’s a lot I want to do that is currently impossible due to the pandemic, but I still want to surprise people. I’m curious; I’m always learning. I want to stay open and be creative. And I still want to encourage young designers even though we’re facing a very difficult year.” Time spent in lockdown has also inspired her to reflect on other projects—not directly clothing oriented—she has been wanting to get off the ground but never quite had the time for. She credits her work for keeping her young and active, especially in an industry as competitive as the one she is in. “It’s one of the most demanding fields in the world; we are on a tight, relentless schedule that we have to meet because we show almost five times a year. A lot of people still think that it is mostly fun because of all the dressing up and hair and make-up, but it does not end there. I’m also a businesswoman. I’m also a board member. And for any creator, having to juggle all these priorities is a challenge.”

 

Wang is a risk-taker, a go-getter and lifelong learner all rolled into one. With her at its helm, there is no questioning how the Vera Wang brand—which continues to push all sorts of fashion boundaries—has stayed strong for three decades. And as she takes her business into this strange new era, she takes her tenacity and her commitment to innovation along for the ride. At this point in time, there is much that is uncertain, but Vera Wang is nothing but ready.

I'm curious; I'm always learning. I want to stay open and be creative. And I still want to encourage young designers even though were facing a very difficult year.
Vera Wang

This article was originally published in Tatler Philippines September 2020 issue. Download it on your device via Zinio, Magzter, or Pressreader.