Nuggets of wisdom
Lessons from Vera Wang gleaned over 20 years.
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