News & Runway

Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis: Vera Wang

When Fern Mallis introduced Vera Wang, she mentioned that the designer was mid Oscar fittings so, stay tuned! Like Tom Ford before her, Wang was surprsingly humorous and extremely poised. Here are some highlights from the interview.

On her parents: Her father was the son of a Chinese general and her mother was the daughter of a Chinese warlord. Both are Chinese immigrants making Wang a first generation American. She was born while her parents were living in the Lower East Side and she has a younger brother who went to MIT and Harvard Business School.

On her education: She dropped out of Chapin and went to a ballet school to help her with skating because she was fixated on making it to the 1968 Olympics. She was badly injured, however, in the process of trying to make it to the Olympics and skated anyway and still today suffers from the repercussion of skating while injured. When asked if she still skates today she said, "Once in a while," but spoke beautifully about the art of skating.

On getting into fashion: Wang moved to Paris with a former boyfriend and there discovered her love of fashion. When she came back from Paris ("My parents wouldn't give me any more spending money"), one of her first jobs back in NYC was working as a salesperson at the Yves Saint Laurent store on Madison. While in the store, she met a Vogue editor Polly Mellen who told her to call her when she gets out of college. Wang ended up getting hired at Vogue in the early Seventies after graduating from Sarah Lawrence.

On Vogue: Wang worked there for 16 years. "I was a hard worker, I never complained, and I felt very privileged to work for such an amazing magazine and for such amazing talent […] it became my life. I don't know where my days or my youth went, but I enjoyed my time there." After leaving Vogue, she worked for Ralph Lauren. "After l left Vogue I realized that I didn't have a personal life and I wanted to have children […] so I told Grace I wanted to try something new."

On Ralph Lauren: Wang said it was very hard to leave her job there. He told her, as a friend, on a plane once, "I don't want you to become a fashion nun." At the age of 39, Wang ended up getting married — she had seven wedding dresses designed. "In Chinese tradition, you were a traditional dress, a red one, a pink one, and then you change into something else so there can be up to five." She added that initially her wedding was going to be for 30, but ended up being a 450 person wedding, hence the additional dresses. David LaChapelle was her wedding photographer.

On the start of her business: "The biggest problem is that you almost never have a repeat customer." She started as a bespoke business making one-of-a-kind gowns. One of the first stars she dressed was Sharon Stone.

On dressing skaters: Nancy Kerrigan was the first skater Wang dressed. Her designs included one inspired by the dress Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President."

On celebrities: Charlize Theron, Mariah Carey, Barbie, Chelsea Clinton, Hilary Duff and Kim Kardashian are among the stars Wang has dressed. "When you dress a woman for a wedding, it's all about them. It's about channeling who she is," said Wang, versus when she designs ready-to-wear where she says she brings much of herself.

On licensing: Wang now has countless lines including mattresses, eyewear, stationery and china. She says she is actively involved in all, but that it's challenging. "You have to make sure that you perform from a business point of view […] I never take expansion as necessarily a positive thing. I'm always very cautious about it."

At the CFDA Awards: The night Wang won her CFDA Award she didn't want her children there in case she lost. Anna Wintour told her to "get your children here. I don't sit next to losers."

On what's next: "I've always wanted to do athletic clothing and not just yoga."