Who: The fashion stalwart may be best known for her wedding dresses, but she's branched out into fragrances, eyewear, shoes, home furnishings, and more.
Backstory: Vera grew up in a family of immense wealth: Her Chinese-born father, Cheng-Ching ("C.C.") Wang built a fortune in the pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and packaged goods industries as the co-founder of U.S. Summit, a company that Vera's brother oversees to this day; her mother, Florence, was the daughter of a Chinese warlord and a former translator at the United Nations, who took Vera with her on many a shopping trip. Vera attended Chapin, was a competitive figure skater (she narrowly missed a shot at the making the Olympic pairs team in 1968), and went to college at Sarah Lawrence, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris her junior year. When her dad wouldn't pay for grad school in design, she took a job as a sittings assistant at Vogue instead, working at the magazine for 17 years and ending up European editor.
After coming to the conclusion that she'd probably never be Vogue's editor-in-chief, Wang left the mag in the mid-'80s to take a job designing accessories and at-home wear for Ralph Lauren. A couple of years later, she convinced her father-who had long turned down her requests for capital-to finance a line of her own. He had one proviso: It had to be bridal wear. She reluctantly agreed, and it turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Bridal wear lacked a high-end brand name at the time and Wang redefined the industry during the '90s, replacing the once de rigueur frilly, poufy-sleeved dresses with sophisticated, intricate gowns. A decade later, with help from her (now deceased) right-hand Chet Hazzard and licensing chief Laura Lee Miller, the Vera Wang brand has expanded to countless other markets.
Of note: Wang's early buzz as a designer was a result of her pricey, custom bridal dresses, and she remains the brand of choice for many of the fussiest brides. Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Karenna Gore, Sharon Stone, Melania Trump, and Jennifer Lopez (on two occasions) have all worn her down the aisle.
By 2000, she'd moved into the fragrance business with a scent for women to wear on their wedding day. She soon moved into dishes, flatware, stationery, and lingerie. Wang didn't expand into the financially riskier ready-to-wear category until 2002, but by all accounts it's much closer to her heart these days than bridal wear, which she seems to have grown bored with. However, it's the bridal and accessories categories, which gross more than $250 million a year, that keep her beloved fashion line full of asymmetrical, avant-garde duds afloat. The line has hardly generated praise from critics: in February 2007, Cathy Horyn excoriated Wang, concluding that she "lacks imagination" and "spends too much time looking at other designers' work, and with envy."
But while she isn't earning raves for the ready-to-wear, her brand extension continues to roll on. She's stamped her name on a line of supremely unglamorous Serta mattresses and created a lower-priced line for Kohl's, which turned into one of the retailer's most successful new launches.
Personal: After decades of being, as she describes it, a "fashion nun," Wang tied the knot just a few months shy of her 40th birthday. Her husband is Arthur Becker, a former Bear Stearns broker-turned-computer executive. After unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, the couple adopted two Eurasian kids in the early '90s, Cecilia and Josephine. The family resides in the 740 Park duplex once occupied by Vera's parents. They sold their previous apartment, a six-bedroom spread at 778 Park, for $33 million in October 2007.
Full Name: Vera Ellen Wang
Date of Birth: 06/27/1949
Place of Birth: New York, NY
High School: Chapin School
Undergrad: Sarah Lawrence College
Residence(s): New York (Upper East Side)
Filed Under: Fashion
[Photo via Getty Images]