Vera Wang is fashion's first lady of bridal wear. Her coveted designs grace celebrities and the mere mortals able to spend upwards of $20,000 for a chic walk down the aisle.
But now she is coming to the mass market with a collection for David's Bridal.
The nation’s largest wedding retailer launched the White by Vera Wang collection in February with 12 gowns priced from $600 to $1,400. It expands in early June with another seven bridesmaid dresses and a line of shoes designed by Wang and manufactured by David's Bridal.
"It's amazing how it has resonated," says the 61-year-old Wang, a household name thanks to two decades of dressing celebrity brides including Chelsea Clinton, Ivanka Trump and Sharon Stone.
A privately-owned company, David’s doesn’t discuss sales figures, but Chief Marketing Officer Brian Beitler confirms success at the cash register was better than expected. “From the moment we announced the partnership, we had customer inquiry,” says Beitler.
White by Vera Wang is currently available in 150 of the 307 David’s Bridal locations nationwide.
Originally a Philadelphia bridal salon, David’s Bridal pioneered the mass-market approach for brides looking to say yes, no, or “let me try on the first one again” to the dress. This year, more than half of all American women getting married will shop at David’s Bridal and buy dresses off the rack.
Millie Martini Bratton, editor-in-chief of Conde Nast’s Brides magazine, says Wang’s collection offers a lot of fashion for the money.
“Brides today want fashion at all price points," says Bratton. The wedding dress "is not just a ceremonial costume, but has gotten closer and closer" to real clothes.
“They want a dress that looks like them, a style that looks like today," she adds. "Vera's done an incredible job taking that quintessentially classic ‘Vera Wang’ look to a broader market.”
The retail industry has embraced bridal for that broader market in recent years. Designers Monique Lhuillier and Isaac Mizrahi have introduced bridal collections priced in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. Mall stores like J. Crew, Ann Taylor and Urban Outfitters have created bridal and bridesmaid collections similar to the their clientele’s existing style choices.
“It's exciting that the industry overall is producing good quality dresses that offer more fashion” says Bratton.
How hard was it to maintain the “lighter-than-air” Vera Wang sensibility on a David’s Bridal budget? “I'm looking at fabrics that are sometimes $1,000 per yard,” says Wang about her high-end Weddings collection in silks, satins and crepe de chine.
For the David’s Bridal line, “I could be working with $1.50 or $2.00 a yard. That's the beauty of a license,” says Wang. David's Bridal orders thousands of yards at a time, maximizing the cost for quality fabrics.
Wang and her team maintain creative control over the designs, a familiar business model from her empire of licensed partnerships on everything from sportswear to Serta mattresses.
Annual sales for the Vera Wang catalogue of brands are estimated to be $700 million annually, more than half from licensing. The Simply Vera Vera Wang collection launched at Kohl’s department stores in 2007 and is still the store’s largest launch.
Vera Wang became a wedding dresss designer by accident.
“Someone actually asked me to get married. It was fabulous,” says Wang of her own wedding at age 39. Unable to find a dress that offered the refinement and fashion she craved, she designed her own.
“My father was the one who said there’s a business opportunity there,” says Wang.
Oil and shipping executive Cheng Ching Wang was the son of Chiang Kai-shek’s war minister and invested in his daughter’s first boutique in Manhattan in 1990.
After a decade in bridal and evening wear, Wang expanded to home accessories in 2002 and ready-to-wear in 2005. She received the Council of Fashion Designers of America Designer of the Year award for womens wear the following year.
“It’s all about the product in the end,” explains Wang. “I don’t take any of it for granted.”
Some products even do double duty — Wang says her new David’s Bridal bridesmaid dresses fall in the more wearable category of cocktail dress.
"You can absolutely wear them again," she says. "I was a bridesmaid 12 times," joking about the turquoise and hot pink sartorial skeletons in her closet.
Vera Wang appears on The Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromothe weekend of May 7 and 8, 2011.