Michelle Kwan and Clay Pell
Courtesy of Caitlin Maloney
01/21/2013 at 07:00 PM EST
Although she was a singles figure skater throughout her successful career, Michelle Kwan
did have one steadfast partner on the ice – fashion designer Vera Wang
"I wore so many skating dresses designed by her, whole skating shows and everything," Kwan, 32, tells PEOPLE. "I have a long relationship with her."
And that made picking a wedding dress designer a fairly easy decision.
For Kwan's Rhode Island nuptials
on Jan. 19 to Clay Pell, 31, Wang put plenty of consideration into her creation.
"She is marrying someone whose family has a political history, and Michelle is living and working in Washington, D.C.," the designer says. "[The dress] had to have a certain dignity and a certain classicism, and I think it was a lot about a new way of looking at tradition."
So Wang created an ivory, strapless mermaid gown for Kwan, made with layers of silk organza and featuring lace appliqué.
"The fact that it's got an inordinate amount of handwork in terms of lace is really a tribute to the art of hand-piecing lace," Wang says. "There is a princess-slash-queenly level of sophistication and quiet without sacrificing a lot of detail."
To complement the formal wedding gown, Kwan asked Wang what she thought of designing a second dress for the reception. "She said, 'Yeah, I got it,' " Kwan says. "She said, 'First dance, yes, and then you've got to change into something else.' "
Her history with the skater was not lost on Wang. "I'm really very honored and very thrilled that a, Michelle has found the love of her life and b, that I am the one to dress her for that special day just as I did for world championships, national championships, and Olympics," she said. "It's just the ongoing saga of our friendship."
For more on Kwan's wedding, including photos and details from the ceremony, pick up a copy of next week's PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday