"I was fearless. I wasn't a bridal designer" – Vera Wang on dreams and dream dresses
In conversation with the designer
" I knew absolutely nothing about bridal wear," says Vera Wang, one of the world's most successful bridal dress designers of our time. Here Vera Wang talks to Buro 24/7 about her failed Olympic dream, her career in the world of fashion starting with her appointment at Vogue and her vision of the perfect wedding dress...
I've always been mystified by clothing
Before it all, I was a professional figure skater. I tried to make the 1968 US olympic team, but failed. When you fall down you have to pick yourself up. The only thing that got my attention, after skating and ballet, was fashion, I have always been mystified by clothing. I thought maybe I could go to design school, but my father told me: "Go and get a job". So I started working at the Yves Saint Laurent boutique on Madison Avenue. Then one day I met Frances Patiky Stein (Vogue's Fashion Director). She told me to call her when I was finished with college. I called her back two years later and she actually remembered me and got me an interview at Vogue.
Everything was going on in Paris in the 60s...
I moved to Paris in late '60s to study arts at La Sorbonne. It was a very controversial time for quiet traditional France. It started with a series of students sitting protests and turned into massive general strikes and a social revolution (the May 1968 events). But it was the same very moment that was very free and liberating. And I arrived right at this moment, when everything was going on in Paris. The whole world was changing. It was very exciting.
I lived on Avenue Foche in my friends' apartment. We went out to Castel, Regine's — one of the best places in Paris. It was so free, just like the famous Studio 54. You could meet whoever you can imagine there — from Alain Delon to Yves Saint Laurent and Lulu de la Falaise with their entourage. It was larger than life, everyday was a new lesson. Really cool for a 19 year old American girl, no?
The French really invented fashion for me
I've been always influenced and inspired by French designers, especially Yves Saint Laurent. He was so young, brave and extremely talented. Before him, French brands were beautiful, but still too proper, too "couture". He totally resurrected fashion. He put women in gipsy dresses, inspired by his trips to Marrakesh. He brought camouflage jackets on the runway as a sign of protest against the Vietnam War. He opened haute couture by putting women in double breasted jackets and tuxedos. So the French really invented fashion for me. My entire background has been based on living in Paris.
On the La Légion d'Honneur
I've lived so many lives in fashion. But I never would have imagined that in one of them I would receive the highest civilian distinction — La Légion d'Honneur. It was something completely unexpected for me, as an American designer. It's an outstanding honour to join such recipients as Alber Elbaz and Agnes B. When I asked Gerard Araud (the French Ambassador for the United States): "Why me?" He told me that he knows about my endless love and devotion for this country and how it affected my career and my whole life.
When you work with the best...
After a year of interning at Vogue I became a Fashion Editor. The best hair designs, best makeup, best photographers, the most beautiful models and most interesting celebrities — everything in the world was available to Vogue. Can you imagine what it's like to work with people of that calibre? It was kind of incredible when I think back on it. Afterwards I started working for Ralph Lauren as a design director: no budgets, no limits, huge stats.
The infrastructure there was so enormous when compared to Vogue. Vogue was tiny, there were only four of us. It was so fascinating to see that much money and power in one place. When you work for the best from the beginning, you receive a different level of education.
This is why I say that the secret of a successfull career is in working with the people you admire.
On being an old new designer
Can you imagine starting your own business all over again at 40, after having two careers like that? It has been very hard. All doors that are open when your work in a big company shut when you go ahead on your own. I felt like a student, like a "débutante". I used to laugh and say: "I'm not a young designer, but I am an old new designer".
All about the meringue dresses
My business started from scratch in a little store. I was fearless because I knew absolutely nothing about bridal wear, only that it was all about meringue dresses. It was sort of instinctive. The success of our business was in that I wasn't a bridal designer, we have been always more fashion-oriented. We brought fashion to bridal wear. Then in 2000 we introduced our pret-a-porter collection where I could finally expand my own vision of women.
I never wanted to be a bride and I never wanted to get married. Ralph Lauren used to call me a fashion nun. Calvin Klein laughed when he found out that I wanted make wedding dresses. I wasn't a bridal person at all. A couple of years ago my assisant found my own wedding dress in our New York offices — I completely forgot where I left it.
Why didn't I ask Ralph Lauren to make the dress? It's a fair question. I think he was afraid that if I didn't like the dress, I'll feel obligated to wear it. And I was afraid not to like it and force him into making another one. So we just decided to keep it simple.
Colours and shapes
I don't like bright colours. There must be a reason to do colours. You'll be surprised but I work easier in dark, in black. Because there is some modernity in it, it helps the designer. Black is more abstract. You can see the shape and feel the texture better. All these colours, prints and details start to hurt your eyes. There are two sides of fashion for me: architectural and decorative. Some designers are amazing decorators, but I believe more in pureness and architecture.
On the bridal business
Bridal wear, strangely enough, is not as global as one could think. It is still very country-driven and tradition-driven. Russia is different from China. New York is different from Miami. Some brides want to look young. Others want to show a certain level of wealth — then we go all the way. You want real couture? We can do real couture! But we always strive to look fresh, modern and sophisticated.
I can't simply do anything I want, because I have a business and a brand to protect. But I do respect the freedom that young designers have. I 've always wondered, if we do not encourage them enough to take chances and to create things that aren't just commercially viable, where will the creativity come from? We have to preserve our artistic freedom.
Your generation is the most educated generation that has ever lived on earth. We are a very "now" society. But if you don't study the past, you will never understand where it comes from. If things go too fast ahead, they will slow down. Because in a way, everything is cyclical: art, fashion, politics.