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Getting Married: What to Wear | Profile: Vera Wang

Visionary in White

This designer extraordinaire remains passionate about her bridal work even as she moves on to other fashion realms.

February 03, 1999|BARBARA THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Her name alone conjures up images of fabulously simple wedding gowns. Brides as glamorous as Sharon Stone and as traditional as Karenna Gore have sought her out for their special days.

Vera Wang has revolutionized the way people look at bridal dresses--transforming them in the last decade from cookie-cutter froufrou concoctions to stylish, couture-look gowns that take into consideration the brides might actually be grown up.

Much has been written about Wang's own search for a dress in 1989. She had been a senior editor with Vogue for 16 years and was the design director for Ralph Lauren when she was married at 38 to businessman Arthur Becker. The admittedly enthusiastic Studio 54 patron could only find traditional gowns that seemed incompatible with her life. She ended up having a dress made. Just one year after the wedding, she opened Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. in New York.

Her one-of-a-kind couture wedding dresses start at $20,000. Her ready-to-wear bridal line ranges from $2,200 to $4,800.

We caught up with her a few weeks ago as she was preparing for the fashion shows in New York.

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Question: I've read quite a bit about how you yourself couldn't find a simple plain, beautiful wedding dress and how that kind of got you in the business. But somehow that doesn't explain to me the energy behind changing the way people look at wedding dresses.

Answer: Well, I mean it's a simplification of saying that I couldn't find my own wedding dresses I like. I think what I was really appalled by and shocked by was the lack of taste in bridal. You know it was a very, very formula kind of business . . . the sort of lace with multicolored, iridescent, sequined and fake pearls sewn on the bodice, and a big full skirt and flowers up at your shoulder. If you weren't in the market for that, there were no other alternatives, unless you had something made or you were wearing a major designer in white. . . .

I really felt that there was an opportunity for me in building a clothing company, a design company, and to start with an area that I had just experienced personally, and to use it as a platform to develop a name and to develop a style and to imply a certain quality to build up a brand name. That's what really was the motivation behind my going into bridal first.

I now do shoes, I now do evening wear and I now do cashmere sweaters, and I'm on my way to doing handbags, but I think that bridal is my first passion because it enables me to express myself in a way that is perhaps more theatrical in what's going on in ready-to-wear today. It's one of the few places where one can be grander, larger than life, more important.

And by that I don't mean more stuff on the dress.

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Q: Have your silhouettes changed in the last eight years?

A: Bridal in the past was very much a commodity. You know, there's kind of a look and you just change the necklines, and it never was that for me. I have certain things that have become trademarks, and I've seen them so badly copied everywhere that it just makes me crazy. What I've tried to do is to take a very different approach, and this particular season it has really been about the cleavage, which was not my signature look. My signature look was high in the front and low in the back.

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Q: That's what you've been famous for.

A: It was always high in the front--sort of monastic--and from the back a touch of flirtation, but this time we really went for focus on the bodice. This particular collection was really about the bodice, about breasts and making them fit high and the waist coming in very, very tight, almost like Louis XVI, you know, and big full skirts, skirts that have as much as 10 yards of fabric in them.

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Q: Let me ask about the "Vera Wang waist." Often, your dresses give a woman a spectacular figure.

A: Yes.

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Q: Is that waist built into the dress or do women have to wear undergarments?

A: They don't have to wear undergarments. I think it depends on the girl. If a girl is very, very full-busted, and I mean very full-busted, and very small in the body, she surely needs a lot more support than a girl with an average build. . . . I think what's really amazing is my sense of proportion. It's not amazing, but that's what I focus on.

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Q: How so?

A: I don't know a woman who doesn't know her own flaws. You meet her, and within the first 10 seconds she'll tell you, "You know, my hips are too large or my legs aren't long enough, or my bust is too big, or my bust is too small, or I don't have any shoulders, or I hate my upper arms," so I'm like in there with everybody else. So for that, I'm always trying to compensate in every dress that I do. . . . There will be a dress that's got a very full skirt where it doesn't matter what your hips and legs look like. There'll be a dress that's done for the busts because you've got a great bust.

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Q: That makes a lot of sense just from seeing the way your dresses look on women.

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