In demand for "I do's" since the opening of her bridal shop in the Carlyle Hotel in 1990, Vera Wang is romantic, but she doesn't wear rose-colored glasses. Always business-savvy, she has parlayed the huge success of her wedding empire (which markets not just white dresses but the whole event, from flatware and fine china to invitations) into a career as one of New York's most desirable and respected ready-to-wear designers. In fact, Wang has done the near impossible: achieved niche market domination as well as global name-brand recognition.
With their rich embellishments, artful layers, and sumptuous jewel-tone fabrics, Wang's designs exude an air of easy glamour. Jennifer Lopez, Uma Thurman, and Victoria Beckham all turned to Wang on their wedding days, while Keira Knightley and Michelle Williams have favored her on the red carpet.
Wang was a competitive figure skater through her teens, so it's no surprise that leggings (on the comfort end of things) and embroidered tulle (on the showstopping end) have found their way into her work. Educated at Chapin, a high-toned Manhattan private school, she traded rinks for runways after studying at Sarah Lawrence and the Sorbonne, taking a job at Vogue back home in New York City. At 23, she became the magazine's youngest-ever senior fashion editor, a post she held for 16 years.
She got into the designing end of the trade in 1987, when she accepted a job directing women's accessories at Ralph Lauren. Two years later, she dipped into the wedding waters when she was unable to find a dress for her own marriage to the financier Arthur Becker and sketched her own design; soon, her creations were the last word in bridal chic, selling for tens of thousands of dollars at the Carlyle.
In the new millennium, Wang at last fulfilled a lifelong dream and made the leap into ready-to-wear. That move paid off, too, naturally: She won critics' applause and, in 2005, took home the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year statuette. In 2006, she branched out yet again, introducing a lower-cost line called Simply Vera at Kohl's department stores. And in 2007, she garnered what may be the industry's ultimate current stamp of success: a cameo role on an episode of Ugly Betty. Vera Wang Lavender Label, a secondary collection, debuted in Fall 2008.