Catherine Piercy, Vogue
Before she launched the collection that bears her name, Vera Wang spent sixteen years working behind the scenes at Vogue, first as a rover and eventually as a fashion editor.
My Vogue story is a little bit of a Lana Turner story-not that I'm blonde and buxom, but you get the idea. I really lost my way when my figure-skating career ended. I was nineteen, and I was in a panic because nothing had played out the way I'd hoped, after years of hard work. I ended up living in Paris for a while, which was truly the center of fashion then. The French women were so elegant and so chic; they had defined how to knot a scarf. This was the era of the Hermès bag-the Kelly-and everyone was wearing wonderful colors of nail polish, which was suddenly a very big deal at that time.
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Back in New York, I tried to carry a little of Paris with me. I was working as a salesgirl and doing windows at Yves Saint Laurent on Madison Avenue, and one day [Fashion Director] Frances Patiky Stein came into the store, spotted me, and told me to look her up when I was out of college. I felt like I was at that famous pharmacy in Hollywood where all the stars got discovered. There I was in my YSL, my Le Vernis nail polish, in the heyday of Saint Laurent. And this was Vogue! Growing up I'd been a total hound for Vogue, just like my mother. But when I went home and told her the news, she was so sarcastic; she said, "She's never going to hire you, don't be ridiculous. You're a college girl on a summer job."
When I graduated, two years later, I called Frances up, and it was as if I had fairy dust sprinkled over me. She actually remembered me, and she wanted to hire me! She sent me to Mary Campbell, who was a legend in Condé Nast personnel, and Mary looked at me and said, "Can you type? Ninety words a minute?" I could hunt and peck, but that wasn't good enough. So I went to Betty Owen Secretarial School, and I sat in that school with my red nails, learning to type, and eventually Vogue took me on as a rover, assisting the fashion editors on shoots.
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On my first day, I showed up wearing a shirtwaist, platforms, and of course those red nails, and [Fashion Editor] Polly Allen Mellen took one look at me and said, "Go home and change. When you come in here, you're going to work." So I came back in jeans.
Over time, I became paramilitary; I'd wear a jacket with 30 pockets to hold all the things I needed on shoots-all those pins, and that eternal pincushion. These were the last days of Vogue as a twice-monthly magazine, and our office was on Madison Avenue back then. But it was also a hallowed time; it was the beginning of my life-and it has influenced everything I've done since.
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Catherine Piercy, Vogue