era Wang expressed her vision well enough as a Vogue editor to make an impression on Ralph Lauren. He hired her as a design director in 1987. As head of design and production of about 15 lines, including all the accessory lines, Wang again found herself working around the clock and under tremendous pressure. Again she loved it. In fact, she probably would have stayed there much longer than two years were it not for major changes in her personal life: marriage, at 40, to businessman Arthur Becker.
Back in 1980 Becker had first spotted Wang at a tennis match at Forest Hills and gotten friends to introduce them. After dating for about a year, he wanted to marry. She didn't. Wang's focus at the time was her career, and it didn't leave room for marriage. They parted ways. When they met again seven years later he was working for her father as a stockbroker. By then Wang was ready for a commitment. They moved in together and were married two years later in 1989.
"He was waiting for me," she says with a laugh, and then confides soberly, "Actually, he sort of was waiting."
By 1998 Becker was chairman of Bnox, a company that makes disposable binoculars. They were a striking enough couple that People included them in its "Ten Most Romantic Couples of 1995." They divided their time among three incredible homes: a stunning 22-room apartment on Park Avenue that has been featured in Vogue and In Style; a summer home in Southampton, Long Island; and a converted 200-year-old Dutch barn in Pound Ridge, NY that is just down the road from the 100-acre estate where Wang's parents now live.
Unfortunately, their wedding was followed by a "grueling infertility" which required Wang to go to the hospital every other day for sonograms and blood tests. That made it impossible for her to devote herself to her work at Ralph Lauren. Wang quit, as much for Lauren's sake as for her own.
Just as Wang's decision to leave Ralph Lauren arose from a deeply personal experience, so did her decision to go into business for herself. She wanted her wedding to be a lavish affair, a true piece of theater. This was, after all, a woman who had spent her life creating theater on stages and skating rinks and in magazine pages, and this was the most dramatic event of her life. And so it came as a real disappointment that she couldn't find a "real retail bridal operation" in Manhattan, meaning a store that would advise on everything — not just the gown, but the shoes and flowers and accessories and hair and the groom's outfit and the bridesmaidŐs dresses and whatever else a bride-to-be might need to know about. Even worse, Wang couldn't find a wedding dress appropriate for a sophisticated, modern woman. Not only were they frilly and poofy and geared toward a young, innocent bride, but they were geared as well toward a whole different era. As much as women had evolved over the years, it seemed their wedding dresses had remained frozen in time.
After several failed purchase attempts, Wang finally paid $10,000 for a hand-beaded duchesse satin gown and planned by herself a wedding for 400 guests at New York's Pierre hotel. What with a 22-piece orchestra, hundreds of off-white roses and copious quantities of Cristal champagne and caviar, it got full coverage in The New York Times Magazine alongside the weddings of Princess Diana's brother and the president of Chanel.
A year later Wang wasn't pregnant, but with the $4 million investment from her father she opened her own bridal store on Madison Avenue and a custom-order salon just across the street. Wang used a quarter of her father's investment to redecorate the boutique. While the work was being finished, she and an assistant sold wedding gowns from a hotel suite. In September 1990, Vera Wang Bridal House Ltd. officially opened its doors. Wang's former colleagues at Vogue paid tribute to her with a six-page article, and soon prospective brides were flocking to the boutique.
In her own hard-charging way Wang has also remedied the lack caused by her inability to get pregnant by adopting two daughters, Cecilia and Josephine. On the very morning Wang was interviewed for Face magazine, she had been on the phone with her therapist about the difficulty of balancing family and career.
"It's such a special privilege to be a mom," she says, "probably one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me. Unfortunately, I also have a business that is successful, and that is growing." As of that day Wang had been working 81 days straight. She does take occasional vacations with her family, but they are working vacations, spent on the phone or sketching by the pool. It is how she imagines her daughters will remember her, and this fact causes her no small amount of anguish.
Perhaps they will take comfort in the fact that their mother used that stolen time to help liberate women from outmoded fashion sensibilities.