By  on November 16, 2005

In 16 years, Vera Wang has made the leap from bridal designer to running a $300 million lifestyle brand that covers sportswear, fragrance, footwear, lingerie, fine jewelry, stationery and even a coffee table book. The path has been as eclectic and animated as the designer herself.

"For nearly four decades, my life has been defined — some would say consumed — by fashion," Wang admitted, "but my career has been every bit as much about adversity as it has about passion, coupled with the necessary willingness to accept change."

That passion came through in Wang's keynote presentation, which opened the WWD/DNR CEO Summit. Wang mesmerized the audience and often had it in stitches with a poignant and candid speech about her diverse upbringing, her career, the challenges she continues to face as a designer and businesswoman and her views on fashion today.

Wang let the audience know just how worried she was about speaking in public and said her nerves had kept her and her husband up for six weeks.

"I just want to begin by saying that even after a giant vodka — actually, two giant vodkas — this is all still incredibly surreal, if not downright terrifying," said Wang. "As someone who never once even considered pursuing an MBA, this evening provides its own special measure of irony and personal vindication."

Wang's career trajectory has been well documented in fashion circles. Raised on the New York's Upper East Side, Wang was educated at Chapin and studied at Sarah Lawrence College and the Sorbonne. She was a fashion editor at Vogue for 16 years before switching over to the manufacturing side and taking a job as fashion design director at Ralph Lauren. The idea to start her bridal business came to her at age 40 when she was preparing herself to tie the knot and, like all brides, was looking for the perfect dress.

"As a first-time bride of 40, the very idea of getting married, let alone designing wedding gowns, was clearly less than compelling," she said. "But throughout my search for the perfect dress, my father and I had indeed identified a unique business opportunity."

It was one full of pros and cons, though. On the positive side, it was commercially valid since bridal designers had little or no inventory, long delivery and lead times and limited fabric exposure.

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