Next season, one major name will be absent from New York Fashion Week: Vera Wang. Wang plans to forego a runway show and will instead introduce her fall collection with a short film, to be released online on Feb. 28.
That the date coincides with the opening of the shows in Paris is no coincidence. That afternoon, Wang will be honored as a Chevalier of France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor. Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States and a longtime friend, will present the award at a luncheon, the place and time to be determined.
Wang’s decision not to have a show was twofold. Gratified by the French honor, she saw in the timing an opportunity to celebrate France in some reciprocal way. At the same time, she has long questioned the current show system, particularly in New York, where, in the midst of 300-plus shows, it’s easy to get lost. Yet while Paris has “been a dream all my life,” Wang said, practicality won out, as she determined that her company lacks the infrastructure to support such a trans-Atlantic event. So she settled on a film.
“It will be a bit of an ode to Paris,” Wang noted. Apart from that premise, plans, both the practical and the creative, remain nascent. She has yet to enlist a director, but is considering Gordon von Steiner, with whom she has worked on several bridal projects. What is clear is that she will design the collection with the film’s concept in mind. “The biggest issue: Do I let the geography be the focus of the collection, do I base it on Paris, the history, or do I let it be my own imagination — my next collection but with a French accent?” she mused. “Those things are influencing me on that choice of director and art director.” She corrected herself on the latter role. “Probably, I would call myself the art director. Because it is really my story.”
While her decision to present fall 2017 in a film resulted directly from news of her Legion of Honor citation and might therefore be a one-off situation, Wang would not commit definitely to returning to the New York schedule for spring 2018. “Probably we will, but maybe in a very different format,” she said. “Part of the frustrating thing for me in New York, the calendar is so full now that it’s insane to try to get models and hair and makeup. It’s a battle royale for everybody — stylists, model agencies — everybody is just crammed in. The other part that has troubled me — not anything against the CFDA, because I have supported it — but there aren’t that many locations available. That’s a limitation when you’re trying to express a point of view, or [you have] a certain kind of girl in your brain, or guy in your brain. That is the biggest limitation for me, for the moment, until Diane [von Furstenberg] is finished with the High Line and all of that. I can’t say that hasn’t been challenging for me. Not all of us can take the Armory in order to create a world.”
As for her Legion of Honor distinction, Wang is clearly emotional at being honored by a country for which she holds deep reverence. While one might deem the statement that French is “perhaps also my mother tongue” conversational hyperbole (though she is fluent), her passion for the country runs deep, rooted in a long personal history.
Wang credits France with inspiring “a little girl’s love affair with clothes.” As a child she would accompany her mother on buying trips that began aboard a Cunard liner. She recalls her mother’s particular affinity for the work of the young Yves Saint Laurent. Later, as a competitive figure skater, she spent time training with the French national team in Paris and other locales around the country. When her skating career ended, she went to college at Sarah Lawrence, only to drop out for a while and return to Paris where she lived for two years, eventually studying at the Sorbonne. Along the way, she met Nathalie Delannoy, an editor at French Vogue. Though she “hadn’t a clue what a fashion editor did,” Wang became fascinated with the possibility of a life in fashion. As an adult, she kept an apartment in Paris for more than 25 years. “I like to think I almost became Parisian,” she said.
More recently, Wang and Araud have discussed the French American Cultural Exchange, a broad-platform program to foster creative collaboration, in which Wang will become involved. “I want to contribute to both American students and French students in having an open dialogue, and not only to be educated, but to be inspired by both cultures,” she said.
Her recognition as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, she reasoned, is due partly to her work in fostering such dialogue and partly for a fashion career that was in its own idiosyncratic way, shaped by an obsession with French culture. “This is definitely one of the major highlights of my life, my fashion life,” Wang said. “This, and the lifetime achievement award from the CFDA.”
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