Vera Wang’s Vision

Vera Wang has it all.

From bridal gowns to perfume and eyewear to mattresses, the New York-based designer is showing no signs of slowing the lifestyle empire she has built over the last 20 years.

Most recently, Wang partnered with St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Co. to add high-end footwear to the mix and complement her ready-to-wear Lavender Label.

“It’s very much a stylish-girl-meets-street attitude,” Wang said of the footwear. “There is a bit of femininity and toughness.”

Launching for spring ’09, the Lavender Label footwear includes 15 styles of ballerinas, espadrilles, sandals, clogs, pumps and boots. It will expand to include about 30 styles for fall ’09.

The move into high-end shoes is a logical next step for Wang, whose designs have garnered an A-list celebrity following and have been featured in blockbuster films including last summer’s “Sex and the City” and the recently released “Bride Wars.”

Wang, who got her start as the youngest fashion editor at Vogue, has steadily been building her product mix — which also includes china and crystal, a hotel suite, handbags and a wedding book — and has brought her elegant aesthetic to everyday women across the country.

She partnered with Kohl’s in 2007 to create the lower-priced Simply Vera lifestyle collection of clothing, footwear, home decor and accessories, and last year launched Verawangweddings.com.

Even with the growing list of categories under the Vera Wang umbrella, the designer said she is careful to keep her vision consistent throughout.

“All my [products] are an expression of my own personal design vocabulary,” she said. “Details on a dress can inspire bed linens or stationery, while jewelry or embellishments can adorn a bag or shoe.”

Meanwhile, Brown Shoe’s licensing agreement with Wang marks one of the firm’s first partnerships with an established clothing designer. With the Lavender Label, Brown has added a major fashion name to its roster of higher-end brands.

“[She] has built from her name and iconic style a multifaceted brand that resonates with today’s women,” said Rick Ausick, Brown Shoe president of wholesale for New York brands. “The addition of Lavender Label footwear affords us the opportunity to extend the reach of Brown Shoe’s portfolio to a new group of consumers and to create partnerships with new retailers.”

The collection is set to retail for $195 to $695 in about 100 doors, including high-end shops, department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and the Vera Wang ready-to-wear boutique in New York, which opened in December.

Wang, who has been busy preparing her collection for New York Fashion Week, took some time out to chat with Footwear News about striking a balance between clothing and shoes, the constantly evolving Vera Wang brand and how she kicks back in her free time.


FN: You’re one of the first major ready-to-wear designers to collaborate with Brown Shoe. How did you approach the partnership?

VW: Over the past 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many licensees on a variety of lines. While I bring my design vocabulary, personal style and influences to the shoe collection, I look to my partners to guide me on their particular industry needs. And Brown Shoe has the talent, resources and expertise to ensure the success of our brand.

FN: The debut spring collection includes about a dozen styles. How will the line expand for the fall ’09 season?

VW: For fall, we increased the size of the collection by focusing on more seasonal items: motorcycle boots lined with shearling, wedges in rich heavy leathers and velvet ballet flats with a touch of jewel for winter sparkle.

FN: How involved are you in the shoes’ design process?

VW: From the first inspiration to the final product, I’m involved in all the details of the collection. The entire Lavender Label shoe collection reflects my design sensibility.

FN: How would you describe the collection’s aesthetic?

VW: There is a sense of artistry to the Lavender Label footwear that juxtaposes edgy materials with feminine details.

FN: How do the Lavendar Label

apparel and footwear collections complement one another?

VW: For Lavender Label, I love mixing and matching materials and textures, such as leather with crystal, or satin with chain. It’s very much a stylish-girl-meets-street attitude. There is a bit of femininity and toughness — flirty dresses to be worn with chunky platforms, and sleek tailored pants to be worn with sculpted leather sandals.

FN: Who is the Lavender Label customer?

VW: [A woman who is] youthful and sophisticated. She is fashion-forward and carefree with a little bit of attitude and edge.

FN: Why are accessories so hot right now?

VW: It’s all about updating your wardrobe — whether it’s a new belt, piece of fashion jewelry or a fabulous pair of shoes. Accessories work because a woman doesn’t have to change everything else. She can just change the shoe — go from a satin ballet to a spike-heel boot — and create a whole different attitude.

FN: Do you have any concerns about the shoes’ higher price points in today’s tough economy?

VW: [No, it’s really] all about the product. It’s a combination of well-designed footwear that is unique and fashion-forward.

FN: You have a very eclectic mix of products. How do you maintain your distinctive point of view in all your products?

VW: As a designer, my ultimate goal is to make beautiful pieces that resonate with [a woman’s] lifestyle. All my lines are an expression of my own personal design vocabulary. [For instance], details on a dress can inspire bed linens or stationery, while jewelry or embellishments can adorn a bag or shoe. This juxtaposition of ideas speaks to a modern sensibility that is fun, easy and sophisticated.

FN: What is the biggest difference between creating shoes and creating clothes?

VW: With clothes, we have the ability to sketch, drape and see samples very quickly. With shoes, the process is much slower. After sketching, we may wait four weeks for prototypes and another four weeks to see multisized samples. It requires a different planning process and patience.

FN: Where do you find inspiration?

VW: I have always been inspired by art — all kinds, all periods — not only from a visual point of view but from an emotional point of view. I’m also inspired by other women, whether it’s my daughters or a girl on the street.

FN: How would you describe your own personal style?

VW: I’m all about T-shirt dressing and sweater dressing. I’m one of the original sweater girls. What I love about sweaters and T-shirts is that you can dress them up or dress them down and you always feel comfortable. And since I’m sort of a minimalist, I always pay attention to my shoes.

FN: You are an incredibly busy woman. What do you do to relax?

VW: My bedroom is my sanctuary. It’s a place of refuge, where I get to pour over all my magazines and watch television. And it’s where I do a fair amount of designing — at least conceptually, if not literally. I also enjoy spending time with my family, whether it’s playing golf or ice skating, biking through Central Park, or window shopping.

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