Vera Wang unveils her debut "attainable" bridal line - and it's beautiful

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Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Vera Wang is one of fashion’s consummate rule-breakers. When everyone else was wearing vertiginous heels, she was waltzing around Vogue’s New York office in dance slippers and ripped T-shirts. She defied expectations by becoming the magazine’s youngest fashion editor, aged 23, where she remained for more than 15 years. Refusing to remain shackled to one career path forever, in 1987 she left publishing for design, joining Ralph Lauren as design director. Then, as she prepared to get married, aged 40, she decided – without any prior experience of the wedding market – to launch her own bridal label, where she pushed the boundaries of what women could wear on their big day. She wanted to serve traditionalists, but also offer new, modern and irreverent alternatives.

Now 72, she is as subversive as ever. At this week’s Met Gala, where she dressed Amanda Gorman and Emily Ratajkowski, she herself wore a floor-length black and ivory bandeau top, cut away at the front to reveal a pair of silk boxer trunks, thigh-high stockings and towering heels. She credits her toned physique to “work, sleep, a vodka cocktail and not much sun”.

“I like to think that we really gave women permission to experiment and to be free,” she tells us. “We showed women they didn’t have to conform or dress a certain way. We really encouraged diversity. If I go down for anything, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for – in a traditional business, we broke every rule. Especially in the world of weddings; I’m seen as a quiet renegade. OK, maybe not so quiet,” she says dissolving into noisy, warm laughter.

Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz

Although Wang’s empire now includes ready-to-wear, home, jewellery, fragrance, eyewear and even spirits (she has a limited-edition vodka, a nod to her favourite alcoholic drink), the designer is best known for her wedding dresses favoured by the rich and famous. High-profile brides to have worn Wang gowns include Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian (for her second marriage to Kris Humphries) and Alicia Keys. The native New Yorker, whose Chinese parents moved to the US in the 1940s, has arguably become the most famous luxury designer in the bridal market; her non-conformist, pioneering approach to wedding dresses has paid off.

“One year I did a black and nude lingerie-inspired collection because that’s what all my girlfriends were wearing,” she recalls. “A lot of people were shocked – they said it was depressing to have brides in black. I said, ‘Not at all, it’s sexy.’ Then of course a lot of brides embraced it.”

She remembers launching a bridal collection entirely in red – an homage to China, where the colour is seen as a symbol of good fortune. Again, the critics were shocked. “In order to sell things, you have to have to shake things up. I remember Karl Lagerfeld telling me that once. He said, ‘They still love a Chanel bag and a Chanel suit, but I’m going to shake it up a bit’, which of course he did. I'm not comparing myself to Karl – he was always a gentleman to me, always, and gave me a lot of advice. I couldn’t just go into an industry and follow the status quo – it didn’t interest me whatsoever. I wasn’t a bridal designer; I was a fashion person from a magazine and then from Ralph Lauren, one of the world’s biggest sportswear businesses.”

Her inexperience in bridal gave her a fresh perspective on the market – a skill that she has retained, along with an eye for how to take her business forward. Realising the luxury price tags of her couture wedding gowns (ranging from £4,000 for an entry level dress to £36,000+ for a bespoke look) means that most women are unable to be part of the Vera Wang world, the designer has launched a “more attainable” label in partnership with international bridal juggernaut Pronovias. The debut collection is vast, featuring 60 looks that each imbue the quality design, as well as the attention to silhouette and fabric that Wang is known for. Prices range between £1,200 and £3,000.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

“Vera Wang Bride is not inexpensive, but it is more attainable,” says Wang, who acknowledges that the prices of her new line will still be steep for many. “This collaboration enables me to bring quality and design at a level, and an availability and attainability, that we’ve never had before. This is the real world, which no one in fashion is ever in. It’s good to know that you can buy something really beautiful and well-made on what is probably one of the most significant emotional days of your life.”

The partnership has also given Wang the opportunity to reach new markets, including Spain, Italy and Scandinavia. “We didn’t have the capability to create that amount of stock on our own. Pronovias does,” she says. “It was the perfect time and the perfect partner - they believe in me. They backed me and pushed me to be me – that's rare.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

We begin discussing the hotly anticipated Sex and the City series, in which three of the leading characters will navigate life in their 50s. Wang’s work was widely referenced in the show – she famously created the wedding gown worn by Charlotte York when she married Trey MacDougal in season four, and a frothy bridal look worn by Carrie Bradshaw in the first SATC film. “I hope there’s no ageism in this new series because I’m not an ageist,” she says. “I remember mothers-of-the-bride saying they couldn’t possibly wear a sleeveless dress, or wear a tight dress. We’ve come so far and it’s not just about feminism, it’s really about freedom and creativity. Fashion should bring that to people’s lives. That doesn’t mean you have to run around in Balenciaga, Celine or Bottega; it means that you should be able to express yourself the way you want to. It’s your body, your life and your world. That’s why I don’t think fashion is frivolous. It enables every single individual to express themselves – how great is that?”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

She believes heartily in making the most of life; Vera Wang is not a woman you imagine gets wistful at big birthdays. She is a powerhouse, but one who wants to live a long, good life rather than a short, frenzied one. “Every year is a milestone year; every year is important. There have been some bad things that have happened in the world, certainly in my lifetime, but we’ve all lived through something seismic recently – I can’t think of a worse two years globally for humankind. Things have changed so much – technology, medicine, lifespan and careers where people were forced to retire at 65.” She pauses. “There’s a fearlessness in youth – maybe that lack of knowledge gives you the courage to move ahead – but at the same time, there’s also something to experience in knowledge. Whenever I’ve fallen into trouble or felt lost or worried, I say to myself, ‘You have been here before. This is not your first time, somehow, someway you will make it through.’”

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