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Vera Wang on Caregiving: ‘You Literally Put Yourself on the Tenth Burner’

The legendary fashion designer gets frank about juggling business, motherhood and self-care on the ‘Wiser Than Me’ podcast

spinner image Fashion designer Vera Wang and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus
(Left to right) Vera Wang and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Vera Wang has spent 55 years working in the fashion industry, 35 of them building her fashion design empire — plus she’s a mother of two now adult children. At 74, she’s excited to have more time to take care of herself, she told actress and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the latest episode of the Wiser Than Me podcast. In the series, Louis-Dreyfus, 63, interviews influential women older than 70. (Previous episodes have featured Anne Lamott and Debbie Allen).

“I’m going to be 75, and if I can’t figure out an hour a day for myself, then there’s something really wrong,” Wang said. She shared with Louis-Dreyfus that her parents were tough on her, demanding excellence in everything she pursued. And she only achieved success with some setbacks and limitations along the way.

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“My life is defined by missing many goals,” said Wang.

The biggest one that changed her career trajectory: not qualifying for the 1968 Olympic figure skating team. Though her Olympic-level dreams were shattered, she says she’s still in love with the sport. Her dad first taught her to skate in Central Park when she was 6 years old.

“It’s the only sport that exists where you can be an artist and an athlete,” she said, adding that it takes choreography, speed, athleticism and discipline. “And you learn a metaphor for life in skating; you fall so much to learn. And that’s what you take with you the rest of your life: that you can fail, but pick yourself up.”

She moved to Paris following her Olympic dream devastation, where she fell in love with fashion, met an editor at French Vogue and decided she wanted to pursue a career in the field. She later became the youngest editor at Vogue magazine and spent 17 years working at the fashion publication. Wang then worked at Ralph Lauren for a few years before starting her bridal fashion business in 1990.

Those successes also came with sacrifices, particularly when Wang was a caregiver to her sick parents during the last 13 years of their lives — all while being a parent herself. She regrets not being there enough for her children during their formative years and wearing herself too thin, Wang told Louis-Dreyfus.

“You literally put yourself on the tenth burner,” she says. “[Women], as far as we’ve come, we still assume so much of the burden of life. … Anyone who says it’s easy is not being truthful, because something has to give. And very often it’s us. It’s us that has to give and people don’t understand. We’re all Superwoman.”

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Now, as a divorced empty nester, Wang has learned to take the time to be alone and take better care of herself, she tells Louis-Dreyfus. She tries to hold on to her youthful appearance (she dyes her hair to cover the gray and she’s told she dresses young) while embracing the wisdom that only comes with age.

Wang shared a nugget of wisdom from her mother that she always carries with her: “Every age has its unique time and beauty. It’s not the same — it never will be — but you find your way through every stage.”

Episodes of the Wiser Than Me podcast are released every Wednesday. Season 2 will include conversations with iconic, award-winning women such as Julie Andrews, 88, and Gloria Steinem, 90. The podcast is available on all major platforms.​​​

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