VERA WANG STEPS ON THE GAS
Byline: Julee Greenberg
NEW YORK — Vera Wang already has the bride. Now she wants a family.
After establishing her name in the bridal business, Wang is working on building a business that covers everything from accessories to tableware. The first move in the program comes with the launch of her first fragrance, Vera Wang. (See related story, page 7.)
The new fragrance follows the publication of Wang’s first book, “Vera Wang on Weddings” (HarperCollins Publishers), and will be followed by the introduction of china and crystal, plus the signing soon of a deal with a shoe licensee.
“Our goal was to first establish the foundation of the business in bridal and then use that foundation as a platform to expand,” said Chet Hazzard, president and chief operating officer of the business since it began in 1990.
Wang stressed that she wants to expand her name without completely licensing it away. Her first move is to release wedding-related products that can easily be given as wedding gifts. The second strategy of expansion is to establish a solid Vera Wang accessories business.
“When I began this business and realized this was my own money I would be spending, it took on a whole new meaning. This business is a lifetime of my own savings,” Wang said. “I know that I am not able to fund everything in-house. I don’t have that sort of infrastructure nor the financial ability. So, licensing was a way for my business to make money.”
The first licensee Vera Wang signed was Rossi Moto to design a bridal and evening shoe collection. Recently, the company’s deal with Rossi Moto expired and Hazzard said he is now in the final stages of closing a deal with Stuart Weitzman to produce a new line of shoes with the Vera Wang name.
“With this deal, we decided to go in a new direction,” Hazzard said. “Stuart Weitzman not only understands this business, but is able to provide us with a very quick turnaround. So, the collection is now being designed and we are going forward with the ad campaign.”
The second licensee, which has been with the company since 1999, is a fur collection produced by the Newmont Group.
“I knew the fur license wasn’t going to make a ton of money,” Wang explained. “I just saw the fur and leather as a completion to the luxury of my collection.”
Wang’s book was published at the end of October. After going through a series of writers, she decided that the best way to write the book would be to do it herself. For two years she wrote, carefully choosing and even designing special gowns for the book. But this book, she insisted, is not just about choosing the perfect bridal gown. It goes into every detail of planning the party and ceremony, as well as dealing with the emotions of the bride and relationships with the groom, in-laws and parents.
“I have a completely new appreciation for writers,” Wang said. “This was one of the hardest things I ever did. This project was a way for me to get over my frustrations of not being able to reach those brides who will never buy a Vera Wang gown.”
In April, the Vera Wang by Wedgwood collection of china dinnerware, crystal stemware and giftware will bow. With Wang having a major hand in the design, Waterford Wedgwood USA, which has never before taken in a license, is the licensee of the collection. The products will be distributed through fine department and specialty stores, as well as in the designer’s Madison Avenue flagship boutique and in Vera Wang shop-in-shop bridal salons beginning in June.
This will be followed by Vera Wang eyewear in late spring 2002. The first collection, Vera Wang Luxe, will be distributed to a limited number of optometry specialists and is being manufactured in Italy and Japan. The collection will be licensed by Kenmark Optical and the Conteur Design Group and will retail between $190 and $1,200. Plans are now in the works for an expanded distribution of a second line under the Vera Wang Collection brand, with price points between $150 and $250.
“The idea of launching eyewear came about because of the eveningwear collection,” Wang explained. “A woman can change her whole look with eyewear and I think they are collecting glasses like they are collecting handbags these days.”
The company now owns and operates two factories: one in Florida and one in Ohio. There are two Vera Wang flagship boutiques, both of which are located on Madison Avenue. One of the boutiques, which concentrates heavily on bridal and ready-to-wear, generates about $10 million a year while the other, which opened about a year ago, brings in $1 million, but is strictly targeted to bridesmaids. Total growth in volume for the company over the past four years has been up 260 percent, to reach $80 million at retail. By the close of next year, Hazzard said he expects to see a 12 to 15 percent increase in that number for the products produced in-house.
The bridal wholesale business is 6 percent above what it was last year; the Luxe (special-order) business is up 15 percent, and bridesmaid business is flat to last year. Rtw is down 22 percent this year, but overall Hazzard said the company is “slightly ahead” of where they were last year at this time.
Also, for the first time, the business is spending 40 percent more than they have in the past on advertising. In total, the company will spend more than $6 million on advertising for all products including licensees. Ad agency Badger Kry has been hired by the company to handle all advertising for fashion, plus the licensees and the HL group led by Hamilton South and Lynn Tosoro will act as marketing consultants. In-house, Robert Barnowske was named design director for Vera Wang bridal and rtw when Herve Pierre left last spring to join the Bill Blass team.
Wang said she is planning to expand her collection of evening handbags in-house, and there are other products she hopes to launch. She said she’d love to add jewelry to her list of licensed goods, but that this will come in time.
“I think jewelry would be a natural for us,” Wang said. “I should have done it years ago. I just want to make sure it is done right.”
Wang also hopes eventually to launch lingerie, bathing suits and sexy tops for honeymooning brides, as well as a prom collection for the upper-class prom-goer. But she knows that she has to go slowly and build the company without letting it spin out of her control.
While Hazzard said that he has been approached by larger companies hoping to buy the Vera Wang name, Wang is not ready for that. And she may never sell.
“This business is my love and my life,” she explained. “It has allowed me to live a great lifestyle and I feel so lucky to love what I do. Maybe, one day I will get sick of it, but really, I doubt it.”
Wang said she hopes that one day her daughters, Cecilia and Josephine, will show some interest in her business and maybe even take over it.
“I have seen them take no interest in the company until very recently,” she said. “I would love for either one of them to love this business as much as I do. It’s a dream for me.”