“I do think I know more about clothes than any 500 designers, because there’s nothing like wearing them,” Wang says. “You buy them, you study them, and you start to understand how they’re crafted. I was never a socialite who wore borrowed clothes to parties—I lived them! When I finally got the chance to design, I was an absolute asshole. When I saw someone in something I designed, I would literally go crazy and be jumping around. My poor assistants, who couldn’t care less because they had to, like, vomit out another collection, were like, ‘Get over it,’ but I was like, ‘This is what I was meant to do.’ I was born for this. Pictures are fun and great, but this is product. I have always loved product. You’ve got to love product.”
When she was just shy of her 40th birthday, she married Arthur Becker, a computer executive. “I just made it,” she says. “I was the girl who nobody thought would ever get married. I was going to be a fashion nun the rest of my life. There are generations of them, those fashion nuns, living, eating, breathing clothes. But Ralph said, ‘Get yourself a husband and a family.’ Anna said, ‘You have got to get a family going here. You’ve been single for three decades now.’ So I married my husband. There are days I’m not happy I did it, but there are days I’m thrilled—I mean, he has always understood my nature, which is that it’s always about product.”
So there was Wang, married and trying to get pregnant. She had stopped, for the first time in her life, trying to launch a fashion label. And then her father came around.
“All those years, it was, would you pay for design school? No. Would you help me do a blouse business? No. Finally, there I was at Ralph, 40 years old and trying to get pregnant, and he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you start your own business?’ I said, ‘What, are you joking? I don’t want to do it.’ And he said, ‘Now is the right time, because you don’t want to do it. You won’t be so emotional.’ Isn’t that bizarre? But that’s my whole life, right there. And then he said, ‘Bridal.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I don’t want to do bridal. It’s a commodity. It’s not fashion.’
“I mean, that I should end up in bridal . . . I might as well have been doing scuba equipment.”
There was, however, a great big hole in the bridal business: It was a brand-name moment, and there was no bridal brand name. “If you’re someone who buys couture, you’ll get a Valentino one-off wedding dress,” says Cavaco, “but for the girl who does love fashion and does spend a lot of money on ready-to-wear, you can’t afford that, but you also didn’t want to go to Schmegegies in Brooklyn. That was the hole Vera filled.” She also became the go-to designer for celebrities: Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Karenna Gore, Sharon Stone, Melania Trump.
Bridal is an industry as separate from fashion as possible, considering both are businesses that traffic in dress. Bridal tends toward hokey: the stuff of princesses and fantasy. Wang realized that she could make it far more sophisticated. She partnered with Chet Hazzard, who’d worked with Anne Klein and others. “Chet always believed in Vera,” says a friend. “Sometimes even more than Vera believed in Vera.” Hazzard died last year—the same day that Wang was nominated for the CFDA award.
Wang started out doing retail (her shop now is on Madison Avenue). She sold wedding dresses by obscure European designers and established a reputation as tasteful, refined, and elegant. Slowly, she began showing her own designs as well. “I thought of myself not as a bridal designer but a fashion designer who happens to do white, ivory, nude. It’s good because it’s so off the radar,” she says. It was great training. “There are people out there who can’t even cut on the bias. I do know how to make a dress.”
She and Becker started a family, adopting two girls, both Eurasian. “He did have a say in the whole thing,” she says. “I mean, it’s all about me, but he did have a say.”
From bridal, Wang expanded a bit. She’d been a competitive figure skater, and she began designing costumes for Olympic skaters like Nancy Kerrigan. (She still designs for Michelle Kwan, a close friend.) And she began doing eveningwear. Still, all the avant-garde sophistication she’d picked up in her years at Vogue just sort of languished. “We were doing ripped seams ten years ago in bridal,” Wang says with a sigh, “but no one got it.”