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June 08, 2020

How Vera Wang Built Her Career and Still Creates Famous Wedding Dresses at 70

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Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, instead, she became the most exclusive wedding dress designer in the world.

Vera Wang's story is the essence of the American Dream. Her parents came to the US in the 40s from China, and Wang was born in New York in 1949.

Her mother, Wu Chifang was a translator for the U.N., and her father, Cheng Ching Wang, was an MIT graduate, and their daughter was to become one of the most respected fashion designers in America.

Wang was determined to give wedding dresses the same pared-down elegance Haute Couture designers paraded on runways in Paris, New York, and Milan

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VERA WANG'S DREAM

Wang fell in love with figure skating at the age of 8, and at 19 she competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championship but failed to qualify for the Olympic team.

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Wang was forced to revise her dream, and armed with a degree in art history from the prestigious liberal arts university, Sarah Lawrence, she joined Vogue Magazine as an editor.

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EDITOR AT VOGUE

Wang was to work at Vogue for 17 years, and only left in 1987 to join Ralph Lauren's team. Anna Wintour, the iconic inspiration for the hit movie starring Meryl Streep "The Devil Wears Prada" said of Wang:

“No one at Vogue was funnier. Or louder. Or more neurotic. Or more endearing.”

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But Wang's stint at Ralph Lauren's was short-lived. Two years later, Wang quit and became a wedding dress designer. In the 80s, wedding dresses were bouffant and overwrought -- witness Princess Diana's gown -- a style Wintour described as “over-aerated cream puffs”.

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Wang was determined to give wedding dresses the same pared-down elegance Haute Couture designers paraded on runways in Paris, New York, and Milan, paired with the intricate detail that brides crave.

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ONE DRESS AT A TIME

Wang launched her line by dressing celebrities. When her friends in the fashion world urged her to put on a fashion show, Wand demurred.

"They said, ‘Why don’t you show?’ I said, ‘I don’t have the money [to show], but I have the money to make one dress [for] one celebrity.’"

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And before long, celebrities were lining up. Wang was the first to build her brand by dressing celebrities for the red carpet, and for their weddings. Wang was the go-to designer for unforgettable moments.

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Wang had a waiting list, and brides would sometimes contact her ahead of the engagement, just to be sure they got that dream dress that combined Wang's signature elegance with romance.

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Among the lucky few who got to walk down the aisle in a Vera Wang original were Haley Bieber, Victoria Beckham, Mariah Carey, Sabrina Dhowre, Kim Kardashian, and two First Daughters -- Ivanka Trump, and Chelsea Clinton.

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IF IT'S NOT A WANG, IT'S NOT A WEDDING

30 years after she started making her wedding dresses and couldn't afford to make a collection for a runway show, Forbes estimates Vera Wang's net worth at over $460 million, and her fashion empire incorporates bridal wear, perfume, jewelry, eyewear, and shoes.

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Wang has bridal boutiques in New York, London, Tokyo, and Sydney, dressing brides on four continents -- and brides who just can't do without a Wang will travel, as far as they have to, for one of those magical, ethereal gowns 

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OLD LOVES NEVER DIE

But Wang never forgot her first love, figure skating. Over the years, she has created bespoke costumes for figure skaters.

Nancy Kerrigan wore Wang for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, Michelle Kwan for the 1998 and 2002, Evan Lysacek in 2010, and Nathan Chen for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Wang may never have made the Olympic team, but she's been there on that podium, for the last 30 years. In her own inimitable way, Vera Wang, now 70, has made her old dream of Olympic Gold come true.

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