vogue.

The Unbridled Entrepreneur: The Early Years of Vera Wang

Fashion legend Vera Wang was born into an affluent family, but that did not prevent her from knowing failure. Her dreams of becoming an Olympic figure skater never managed to materialize. And, when she was rejected for a position as Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, Wang thought she was all out of options. It was then that she decided to turn a personal dilemma into a business venture. Today, Wang is the Chairman, CEO, and owner of one of the most successful fashion houses in history.

Vera Ellen Wang was born on June 27, 1949 in New York City. Her father was a descendent of a long line of wealthy Chinese generals, while her mother was the pampered daughter of a Chinese politician. After World War II, the young couple fled to New York City, where they eventually married and had two children, Vera and her brother, Kenneth.

In New York, Wang attended The Chapin School and later Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated with a degree in Art History. It was during her school years that Wang discovered what would become her life’s first great passion - skating. After receiving a pair of ice skates as a Christmas present, Wang began focusing seriously on the sport. Each day at six o’clock in the morning, Wang would already be on the rink, getting in a round of practice before heading to school. The hard work paid off when by the age of 12, Wang was performing competitively, and even won her first regional championship.

Eventually, the challenge of balancing both school and competitive skating became too much for Wang, forcing her to give up the sport in what would be one of the greatest disappointments of her life.

With skating now out of her life, Wang chose to focus on her second greatest passion in life – clothes. Unable to quell her passion for fashion, and much to the chagrin of her father, Wang began taking the steps she needed to enter the fashion industry.

Fate smiled on Wang when she was hired as an assistant to Vogue’s then fashion director Polly Mellen. The opportunity proved a great learning experience for Wang, who used the job as her chance to learn the ins and outs of the industry. Her hard work did not go unnoticed, and within two years, Wang had worked her way up to become the magazine’s fashion editor.

It was a demanding lifestyle for the then 24-year-old. Often working seven days a week, Wang flourished in the challenging environment. However, since her work was more editorial rather than design-oriented, Wang was still itching to make her own mark on the fashion industry. By the mid-1980s, after 16 years of learning all she could from Vogue, and after being turned down for the editor-in-chief position, Wang left the magazine.

Her unemployed days did not last long, as Wang was quickly snapped up by Ralph Lauren and made a designer for accessories. Finally, Wang was engaging in the creative and hands-on aspect of fashion as she had always wanted. Still, she could not escape the fact that no matter how hard she worked, it was never her name on the product.

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