NEW YORK — For someone who had a trying year personally, Vera Wang seems to be running on all cylinders professionally.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The designer’s sportswear — something she has shown on her runway for the past four years but previously failed to sell to stores — drew an enthusiastic response from many in the 700-plus crowd at Friday’s show. Bergdorf Goodman will give Wang designated space on its third floor in November; Wang is adding a less-expensive dress line for broader distribution next year, and she’s on the lookout for a Manhattan space for her first freestanding sportswear store. She also wooed Susan Sokol to be president of Vera Wang Apparel, a new post, in August.

Things at home, however, have not been moving as smoothly for Wang as things at work. Her mother died of pneumonia in January, and her father has suffered two strokes.

“It’s been one of those very ‘Twilight Zone’ years where you ask yourself, ‘What else can happen?’ and the answer is you don’t want to know,” Wang said.

Or maybe you do, considering how the designer has infused more of her own personal spirit into her sportswear. “I don’t go out to black-tie events five nights a week, just as I don’t get married every year. The irony is I do bridal and red carpet dresses,” she said.

At home or work, she favors skirts, pants, sweaters and tops of varying lengths. “In my own life, I’m very much a sportswear girl. I like to mix and match my own things with other designers,” Wang said.

The hand-crocheted skirt, the first look she sent down the runway Friday, is a favorite piece from her spring collection. A tiered brown chiffon skirt and a coat crocheted in four different stitches and three different colors are also high on her list.

Robert Burke, senior vice president for the fashion office and public relations, was more laudatory backstage. “I told Vera I thought she was a superstar today and that everything about the collection — the sophistication, the details, the fabrics — were beyond my expectations.”

His response was welcome news to Wang, whose sportswear distribution has been limited until now to her Madison Avenue bridal boutique. Burke added, “Vera told me she kept asking, ‘Is Robert going to like it?’ and I said, ‘I don’t like it. I love it.’”

Sokol expects the upscale sportswear to be sold in 60 to 70 doors. The wholesale price range is $300 to $2,000, compared to the designer’s eveningwear, which ranges from $2,000 to $5,000. The sportswear carries a Vera Wang label, but the shape and color differ from the eveningwear and bridal labels.

The success of the designer’s 15-year-old bridal and 14-year-old eveningwear businesses, as well as her licensing deals, has allowed her to invest more into her sportswear, she said.

“I’ve been able to spend more money and to show more of who I am myself, not even as a designer, but as a woman,” she said. “Most women like me don’t even go out at night. I’m at home at 7:30 having dinner with my kids.”

— Rosemary Feitelberg