NEW YORK — To make a name for yourself in fashion, especially a household name, there's a lot to learn about timing, trends, egos. Vera Wang has mastered many of those lessons in the 20 years she's led her own namesake company.
Wang made a list for the Associated Press of 20 nuggets of wisdom she's gained in her career, not only as her own boss but reaching back to her time competitive ice-skating (she was a contender for the 1968 Olympic team), as a Vogue editor, and as a designer at Ralph Lauren.
She's still on alert for new tricks and strategies — guess that's tip No. 21.
1. It's not just about what you design, it is who you dress.
Wang tackled the red carpet long before she launched her runway collection. She was, however, already making bridal gowns and competition skating costumes, so it wasn't a huge leap.
"I jumped into celebrity dressing when it was pretty new. There had been a moment of Scaasi with Barbra Streisand and Bob Mackie with Cher, but not in more recent times, so I jumped in with Valentino and Armani, and there was an article in Women's Wear about how I was dressing Sharon Stone," Wang says.
Stone's 1998 Oscar-night combo of a purple skirt by Wang and white button-down shirt was publicity Wang never could have bought. Wang still has a strong awards-show presence, but, she says, it's tougher now. "Now it's the fashion Olympics to get people to wear your stuff. ... The Oscars are killer."
2. Timing is everything.
Even though her preference was for sportswear, the opportunity in fashion in the late '80s-early '90s was eveningwear and bridal because those were big, expensive show-stopping pieces in the spirit of Christian Lacroix. Now, Wang says, in this era of Theory and Topshop, she'd probably do the reverse and start with contemporary, everyday clothes.
3. Luck helps too: It's better to be lucky than smart.
Sometimes the big break comes from something out of your control. Wang points to Jason Wu, designer of Michelle Obama's inaugural gown and many more outfits since then. He's a young talent worthy of all the hype and praise, but there are other still-undiscovered designers who are, too.
"Smart" comes into play when you recognize the lucky break you've been handed and make the most of it, Wang says.
4. Nothing is new in fashion; its about how you reintepret it.
There are only so many ways a garment can be sewn to be functional and flattering, Wang says. The challenge for the designers is to twist it and make it their own.
5. It's not about the money. It's about the money — always.
"We creative people don't like worrying about it, but to be in business today, you have to face the reality of the business climate," Wang declares. "I've redefined my business model constantly."
Wang's current partnerships include more affordable lines at Kohl's and David's Bridal. Business deals that make sense — and maintain integrity — allow her to let the creative juices continue for her primary collection, which is costly, she says.
6. Relevance is relevant.
Right now, in 2010, women want clothes that move seamlessly within their lifestyle — and budget. If you can't mix a collection piece with something from a mass retailer, it'll rarely see the light of day.
"Women don't run around in ballgowns, I'm sorry to say."
7. Everyone deserves true fashion at any price.
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