Vera Wang, Sew Inspirational
by Jiyoung Lee & David Phan
Currently a very successful high end fashion designer and a native New Yorker of Chinese descent, Vera Wang is a highly influential figure, especially in the Asian American community. She pursued figure skating for a period of time then studied Theatre at Sarah Lawrence College, but later switched to Art History. During a temp job, she met Vogue fashion Director, Frances Patiky Stein who helped her get an office assistant job. In less than 2 years, she was made a full editor. At the age of 24, she was the youngest editor ever at Vogue. In 1987, Ralph Lauren hired her as a design director and she headed the design and production of about 15 lines. At the age of 40, she was preparing for her wedding, when she found that she couldn’t find a wedding dress appropriate for her. This inspired her to open up her own bridal store using an investment from her father. Her friends at Vogue helped her with a six-page article and soon many people were rushing to her store. Now, Wang has made wedding gowns and evening wear for many well-known figures such as Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton, Victoria Beckham, and many others.
Vera Wang works against the stereotype of Asian designers only developing Asian clothing. As an Asian American woman, often I feel that many people expect me to dress according to a distinct Asian style: Anything I wear is defined as “Asian” solely based on the fact that I am Asian. High end fashion and haute couture is often seen as a purely European thing, but Vera Wang brings the Asian identity into the fashion industry. Her designs are not seen as exclusively made for Asians, but are represented by many different celebrities and often referenced in pop culture. Being able to freely express my Asian American identity without being tied down to Asian stereotypes is very important to me. Vera Wang’s success in the high end fashion industry helps to strip the stereotype of Asian fashion being directly connected to Asian designers only.
Vera Wang’s success mainly stems from her hard work and ambition in pursuing the dreams she held for herself in shaping a better future. She pursued figure skating and ballet for years, and even when she decided to follow a different path, she put her full effort into receiving a formal education in art history at Saint Lawrence College. She even spent a year in Paris studying abroad at Sorbonne, where she was able to soak up French culture and fashion. Originally Wang had studied Theatre, however, she gave it up when she realized that it would be highly unlikely for an Asian woman to succeed as an actress in the 1970s. Rather than letting the restrictions from society hold her down, she easily adapted and paved a new path for herself. Because Asian Americans are considered a “model minority” of America, there are boundaries put on our opportunities to succeed. Vera Wang’s success is the perfect example of overcoming the unfair disadvantages and finding a way around the unescapable limitations presented before Asian Americans.
Having such a recognizable Asian American figure in the fashion industry gives young inspiring Asian American designers a role model. Asian Americans are usually pushed towards the typical STEM careers, and many do not pursue creative industries, such as fashion design. This affects the efficacy of the Asian American Center because it encourages breaking barriers and stereotypes that surround Asian Americans.