Sun, 11 May 2003

Wang gives new meaning to bridal gowns

It all began in 1989 when New York-born Vera Wang could not find a wedding dress that matched her sophisticated and modern personality.

She settled for a US$10,000 custom-made, hand-beaded duchess satin gown, and a year later simultaneously opened the Vera Wang Bridal House and the Made to Order salon.

Wang not only revolutionized bridal fashion with her stylish and elegant gowns, she also has built a solid and expanding business empire that competes with the likes of Chanel and Christian Dior.

With prices ranging from US$1,700 to over $20,000, Wang's wedding gowns are worn by some 10,000 brides each year around the world. Her products are sold through upscale department stores, specialty stores and two company-owned boutiques in New York City.

"I wanted to build a fashion company starting with one market," she once said about her business strategy.

"I chose bridal wear. It was important for me to become an expert in this one market. And then expand into others."

Apart from bridal wear, the 54-year-old Wang designs ready-to- wear collections, most notably evening gowns, bridesmaid dresses, sportswear, and licenses her name for eyewear and fragrances.

In 2001, Wang also wrote a book titled Vera Wang on Weddings, which examines and explains the whole event from the proposal to the honeymoon, offering advice and anecdotes.

A daughter of Chinese immigrants (father Cheng Ching Wang is an oil and pharmaceutical tycoon), Wang's initial interest was ice skating before she switched to art, and eventually fashion.

By 23, Wang was the youngest-ever Vogue fashion editor and stylist, and she stayed with the magazine for 16 years before moving to Ralph Lauren as design director for 13 accessory lines.

She is married to Arthur Becker, a Manhattan stockbroker.

Wang hopes to incorporate in her dresses the world of beauty, glamor and grace. She is also known for her minimalism, and her spare, architectural lines.

Wang has gained even more recognition as a Hollywood designer, for which she is considerably indebted to Sharon Stone, who wore Wang's old-fashioned blond satin ball gown to the 1993 Oscars.

She now has a number of Hollywood clients, from Stone, to Uma Thurman, Helen Hunt and many others.

According to Wang, dressing the stars is a very competitive business, with actors wooed by designer with everything from champagne and clothing to airplane tickets and hotel reservations.

"I didn't have to solicit in the beginning," says Wang, "but I do now, because when I dressed Sharon for the first time she went to the Oscars, it caused such a fashion stir. No one for years had taken the Oscars very seriously from a sartorial point of view. Now it is like a war."

Unlike her competitors, what Wang has to offer is herself, working closely with the stars for as long as it takes until they are happy. It is, Wang says, a labor of love.

-- Hera Diani