Vera Wang during a conversation with Fern Mallis at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
“It was like being in designer heaven.” That’s how Vera Wang describes her stint at Ralph Lauren. “We had everything, anything we needed as designers, particularly as a design director, as a team. It just magically appeared,” she told Fern Mallis during an on-stage conversation earlier this year at New York’s 92nd Street Y. “If Ralph believed in you, he really believed you. And he really supported and believed in me. It was very hard to leave.” That difficult decision paid off and more than twenty years later, Lauren remains a Wang fan. He’ll be on hand this evening at Lincoln Center to present her with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the special honors at tonight’s Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards ceremony.
What began as a bridal business backed by Wang’s father (who saw an opportunity in a low-inventory venture that would require a limited range of fabrics) has grown–smartly and steadily–from ready-to-wear and accessories to flatware, stationery, and lines for the likes of Kohl’s, David’s Bridal, and Zales. (Did you know that she designed the uniforms for the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders?) According to Wang, she is very involved in the array of licensing deals. “With all of these lines, you have to come up to speed, not only from a business sense but technically,” she told Mallis. “That learning curve is something I embrace because I love to learn. I’ve worked hard at it for over a decade, but it’s challenging.”
With her name synonymous with a brand that sells everything from perfume to pillowcases in 35 countries, are there any product categories still on Wang’s wishlist? Looking back to her years as an elite figure skater, Wang is eyeing activewear. “I think that for women and men today, there’s such a natural desire to be comfortable,” she told Mallis. “I’d like to do athleticwear. That kind of clothing, it’s just kind of joyous to be able to walk around in. Especially if you can bring a sense of fashion to it. I’d wear it.” She could also be sweet-talked into another deal. “I do love donuts,” she said. “I think I could do a mean donut.”