How Vera Wang Went From Ice Skater to the A-List Crowd’s Top Bridal Designer

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Vera Wang never set out to become a groundbreaking bridal designer — her first dream in life was to be an Olympic figure skater. After failing to qualify for the U.S. team in 1968, Wang instead set her sights on the fashion industry.

“For nearly four decades, my life has been defined — some would say consumed — by fashion,” Wang explained at a 2005 WWD summit. “But my career has been every bit as much about adversity as it has about passion, coupled with the necessary willingness to accept change.”

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Wang’s passion eventually landed her a gig at Vogue. At just 23 years old, she became one of the youngest editors in the magazine’s history. Seventeen years later, after being passed over for editor in chief, Wang left Vogue for her first job at a high-fashion label. But it wasn’t until she began searching for her own wedding dress that she realized bridal was her calling.

Vera Wang Bridal House store interiors (Photo by John Aquino/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Vera Wang’s first bridal salon in 1990.

“If I could transform people’s perception of wedding gowns by making them more modern, artistic, inventive or stylish, then perhaps I could create a valuable, emotional franchise for the rest of their lives,” Wang said.

Today Wang is one of the most recognizable names in design. She’s dressed A-listers including Jennifer Lopez, Hailey Bieber and Kim Kardashian; launched spin-off lines with Wedgwood, Kohl’s and David’s Bridal, and on Monday she will receive her third CFDA Awards honor. In September, the Council of Fashion Designers of America revealed that Wang will receive the Board of Directors Tribute.

In celebration of her latest milestone, WWD looks back at Wang’s storied career in fashion.

Wang Debuts Her Bridal Business

After a brief stint working as an accessories designer for Ralph Lauren, Wang left the label to launch her own fashion house. Her bridal brand officially debuted in 1990 with the opening of her own salon located at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.

The Wedding of Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola   (Photo by Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola at their wedding in 1993.

It wasn’t long before Wang began catering to a celebrity clientele. Mariah Carey wore one of Wang’s designs for her 1993 nuptials to Tommy Mottola. While the union didn’t last, Carey ultimately re-wore the gown, which was inspired by Princess Diana’s elaborate wedding dress, in her music video for “We Belong Together.”

Wang would eventually become the A-list crowd’s go-to bridal designer, crafting gowns for Victoria Beckham, Gwen Stefani, Ariana Grande and Chelsea Clinton, among others.

Wang’s sartorial influence quickly transcended bridal. Going back to her athletic roots, the designer worked with figure skater Nancy Kerrigan to create her costumes for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympic Games.

Nancy Kerrigan from USA during the 1994 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Jerome Prevost/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Olympics.

“I took it on as a challenge for myself because I thought it’d be just wonderful to leave skating with something a little bit more modern, a little bit more innovative,” Wang told Kerrigan in a Lifetime television special.

Wang has since lent her talents to other top figure skaters. Michelle Kwan, Evan Lysacek and Nathan Chen have sported her designs on ice.

By the mid-1990s, Wang began making a name for herself on the red carpet, dressing stars like Marisa Tomei and Holly Hunter. In 1998, Sharon Stone famously caused a stir when she paired her then-husband’s Gap button-up shirt with a satin Vera Wang skirt at the Oscars.

Sharon Stone and Phil Bronstein (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
Sharon Stone and Phil Bronstein at the 1998 Oscars.

Wang Ventures Into Ready-to-wear

Wang’s expertise in bridal and evening gowns made her transition into ready-to-wear relatively seamless. She staged her first ready-to-wear show at New York Fashion Week in 2000, sending models down the runway in a range of casual and dressy styles, closing the presentation with not one, but several brides.

The Millennium also saw Wang expand her business with new product lines. The designer branched beyond garments, debuting glassware, eyewear and perfume.

In 2005, the Council of Fashion Designers of America recognized Wang’s contributions to the industry, presenting her with the CFDA Award for Womenswear Designer of the Year.

Model Karolina Kurkova (Photo by John Aquino/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Karolina Kurkova walks in Vera Wang’s Spring 2000 Ready-to-Wear show.

Wang’s legacy has been immortalized in pop culture. In 2007, she guest-starred alongside one of her clients, Beckham, on ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Playing herself, Wang designed a wedding dress for high-profile fashion editor Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams).

“Sex and the City” also gave the designer her flowers. In a 2000 episode, Charlotte York wears Vera Wang to walk down the aisle with Trey MacDougal, and in the 2008 film, Carrie Bradshaw dons a couture gown by Wang for a Vogue photoshoot.

Making Luxury Accessible

Not everyone can own a couture Vera Wang gown, which is why the designer decided to team with David’s Bridal. In 2011, Wang and the bridal chain collaborated on White by Vera Wang: a line of affordable wedding dresses priced between $600 and $1,400. After nearly a decade, Wang’s partnership with David’s Bridal ended in 2020.

The year 2011 also saw the release of Wang’s first jewelry line with Zales. The Vera Wang Love Collection, which launched its latest campaign in 2023, features engagement rings, necklaces and bracelets at the jeweler’s accessible price point.

Wang Wins the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award

In 2013, Wang celebrated over two decades in business with yet another CFDA honor. In a full-circle moment, Ralph Lauren presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Wang at the council’s celebratory gala.

“I was always taught that anyone should be able to pursue their dream,” she said in her acceptance speech, “and that the biggest crime is not to try.”

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07:  Ariana Grande attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)
Ariana Grande attends 2018 Met Gala.

Throughout the 2010s, Wang continued creating gowns for a series of starry clients. She dressed First Lady Michelle Obama for a state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, and three years later, Wang created Grande’s fresco-inspired ballgown for the “Heavenly Bodies” Met Gala.

Wang revisited the White House in 2023 when President Joe Biden rewarded her with the National Medal of Arts alongside Mindy Kaling, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bruce Springsteen.

Launch Gallery: Vera Wang's Style Through the Years, Photos

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