Nuggets of wis­dom

Lessons from Vera Wang gleaned over 20 years.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - by sa­man­Tha CRiTCheLL

Lessons from Vera Wang gleaned over 20 years.

TO MAKE a name for your­self in fashion, es­pe­cially a house­hold name, there is a lot to learn about tim­ing, trends, egos. Vera Wang has mas­tered many of those lessons in the 20 years she has led her own name­sake com­pany.

She made a list re­cently, of 20 nuggets of wis­dom she has gained in her ca­reer, not only as her own boss but look­ing back to her time in com­pet­i­tive ice-skat­ing (she was a con­tender for the 1968 US Olympic team), as a Vogue edi­tor and as a de­signer at Ralph Lau­ren. 1. It’s not just about the de­sign, it’s whom you dress.

Wang tack­led the red car­pet long be­fore she launched her run­way col­lec­tion. She was, how­ever, al­ready mak­ing bri­dal gowns and com­pe­ti­tion skat­ing cos­tumes, so it was not a huge leap.

“I jumped into celebrity dress­ing when it was pretty new. 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,” Wang says.

Stone’s 1998 Os­car-night combo of a pur­ple skirt by Wang and white but­ton-down shirt was pub­lic­ity Wang never could have bought. Wang still has a strong awards-show pres­ence. 2. Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.

Even though her pref­er­ence was for sportswear, the op­por­tu­nity in fashion in the late 1980s-early 90s was evening­wear and bri­dal be­cause those were show­stop­ping pieces in the spirit of Chris­tian Lacroix. Now, Wang says, in this era of The­ory and Top­shop, she prob­a­bly would do the re­verse and start with con­tem­po­rary, ev­ery­day clothes. 3. Luck helps, too.

Some­times the big break comes from some­thing out of your con­trol. Wang points to Ja­son Wu, de­signer of Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown and many more out­fits since then. Recog­nise the lucky break you’ve been handed and make the most of it, Wang says. 4. Noth­ing’s new in fashion; it’s how you rein­ter­pret it.

There are only so many ways a gar­ment can be sewn to be func­tional and flat­ter­ing, Wang says. The chal­lenge for the de­sign­ers is to twist it and make it their own. 5. It is all about the money, al­ways.

“We cre­ative peo­ple don’t like wor­ry­ing about it, but to be in busi­ness to­day, you have to face the re­al­ity of the busi­ness cli­mate,” Wang de­clares. “I re­de­fine my busi­ness model con­stantly.”

Wang’s cur­rent part­ner­ships in­clude more af­ford­able lines at Kohl’s and David’s Bri­dal. Busi­ness deals that make sense while main­tain­ing in­tegrity al­low her to let the cre­ative juices con­tinue for her pri­mary col­lec­tion, which is costly, she says. 6. Rel­e­vance is rel­e­vant.

Women want clothes that move seam­lessly within their life­style and bud­get. If you can­not mix a col­lec­tion piece with some­thing from a mass re­tailer, rarely will it see the light of day. 7. Ev­ery­one de­serves true fashion at any price.

No mat­ter how much some­thing costs, it is an in­vest­ment by the shop­per, and she should be get­ting some­thing that looks good. 8. Fra­grance is about the most per­sonal thing a per­son can wear.

“Fra­grance makes a state­ment about who you are,” says Wang. You want to be a girlie girl? There’s a scent for that. Rebel rocker? There’s a scent for that, too. City so­phis­ti­cate? Check.

“Girls can at­tain fra­grance and in­cor­po­rate it into their daily lives and not spend a for­tune on it.” 9. Footwear can cre­ate at­ti­tude in a sec­ond.

You are not wear­ing the same per­sona in bal­let flats as heels, and clunky Uggs cre­ate a dif­fer­ent aura al­to­gether, says Wang. 10. Fashion is ex­pres­sive.

Use ac­ces­sories to change your out­fit depend­ing on your mood, but keep the core pieces clas­sic. Change pro­por­tions, wear fine jew­ellery with T-shirts or a chunky neck­lace with a gown, she ad­vises. But then keep those pieces and wear them a new way next year.

“Twenty years ago, fashion was all about rules: You wore a pump to a lun­cheon and a cer­tain Her­mes bag. Now it is about what works for you: be preppy, down­town or Goth, or be all of those on a given day.” 11. In de­sign, all peo­ple have is their own barom­e­ter to guide them.

Yes, there are larger cul­tural trends that de­sign­ers need to be aware of, but Wang says if she is not “feel­ing” a par­tic­u­lar colour or sil­hou­ette, no mat­ter how pop­u­lar, it will not work in her col­lec­tion. If she does not be­lieve in some­thing, how can she per­suade oth­ers to? 12. Never un­der­es­ti­mate the client.

“I have spent my en­tire ca­reer styling, dress­ing and de­sign­ing only for women,” says Wang. She does not give a thought to what men will think of women wear­ing her clothes. If the woman feels pretty and sexy, she is pretty and sexy. Win­ning her over is all that mat­ters. 13. Ready-to-wear: out of my com­fort zone.

The run­way is Wang’s chance to show off who she is and her aes­thetic (think art­ful and dra­matic.)

She says: “De­sign­ing this is a tor­tur­ous process. It’s never easy for me, but that’s been good. I al­ways push my­self out of my com­fort zone. I don’t see a rea­son to do it if I don’t.” 14. Bri­dal: un­pre­dictable.

The bri­dal col­lec­tion has to have much broader ap­peal and be tar­geted to­ward the client’s tastes, Wang says. Most brides are not as in­flu­enced by fashion trends as they are by the vi­sion of the wed­ding dress they al­ways have dreamed of. She con­sid­ers her­self more of a cos­tume de­signer in the spirit of Edith Head than a taste-maker when it comes to bri­dal. 15. It takes courage to put your­self out there.

Re­views can be hard to read, she says, be­cause the re­view­ers are ig­nor­ing the brav­ery it takes on a de­signer’s part to churn out col­lec­tion af­ter col­lec­tion – on a strict sched­ule – to an of­ten fickle au­di­ence. A filmmaker, for ex­am­ple, of­ten can reshoot some­thing or ex­tend a dead­line when some­thing is not work­ing. A de­signer does not have that lux­ury. 16. Dress­ing ath­letes is a crazy sport.

Skat­ing was such an im­por­tant part of her own life that she gets very emo­tion­ally wound up with the skaters she has dressed, in­clud­ing Nancy Ker­ri­gan, Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek, she ex­plains. She wants the cloth­ing to con­trib­ute to a per­for­mance in­stead of ham­per it, which could hap­pen if things are not cut per­fectly. 17. You are not al­ways suc­cess­ful.

“I had to learn to dust my­self off and try again. That’s my real story. I went to Vogue, and I was not get­ting the big jobs, and then I went to Ralph Lau­ren. I didn’t feel like there was much more I could do at the time there, and I think that’s given me the op­por­tu­nity to strug­gle. You have to strug­gle to ap­pre­ci­ate the suc­cesses in your life. It is not real oth­er­wise.” 18. You are only as good as your team.

No one can do it all, Wang says, her­self in­cluded. Fashion is like a team sport, where there are a hand­ful of peo­ple who get the glory, but it took many to get them there. 19. Keep fight­ing. Don’t sit on your lau­rels.

If you hang back, even just one sea­son or one awards show, some­one else is wait­ing to take your place, she says. 20. Ev­ery­one’s jour­ney is dif­fer­ent.

Wang says she tries hard not to com­pare her­self to other de­sign­ers, busi­ness­women, wives or moth­ers. Ev­ery­one makes choices based on their own sit­u­a­tion, and no one else will ever un­der­stand those de­ci­sions fully, she says; they can only sec­ond-guess them.

“I’ve tried to cre­ate a life for me that is com­plete. Ev­ery­one’s route is dif­fer­ent. It doesn’t mean one is bet­ter than the other; they’re just dif­fer­ent.” – AP

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