With popular boutiques in Bucktown and the Gold Coast, jewelry designer Alexis Bittar’s Windy City stamp is undeniable. Ahead of his November 6 trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue, the New York-based designer talked Zoë Kravitz, Chicago sartorialism, and the most important thing he’s learned in 25 years on the job.
You’re in town to celebrate the Holiday/Resort 2015 collection. What inspired that collection and how is it a departure from your previous campaigns? ALEXIS BITTAR: In terms of the jewelry, we followed this kind of deconstructed Deco; I’m usually mixing eras and then always wrapping them toward the future. I took this combination of Deco and deconstructing Deco designs, and then there’s always a layer of ‘80s on it and I feel like there’s a touch of grunge going on. So, that was the overall theme for Holiday.
For Resort, we went for this kind of S&M equestrian, much harder-edged theme. I was in Vienna last Christmas (because I’m always designing a year ahead) and went to see the Spanish horses and was really struck by the hardware on the harnesses, and kind of extrapolated that into a collection.
Working in that ‘deconstructed Deco’ mode, what was the learning curve like for you? AB: I don’t think it a massive learning curve because I’ve been designing for a long time, so it all comes pretty naturally. I had designed a collection with Jeremy Scott a few years ago (I did his recent one also) and we were really looking at this kind of […] grunge-themed, almost like Hindu feeling. I don’t want to get you too confused, but I think that [...] there wasn’t a learning curve, it was more like melding a few different themes together.
So the deconstructed Deco—I love Deco, I always love it for holiday; it’s always an easy thematic entry for holiday, but tweaking it in different ways I find interesting and having it deconstructed, and then a little bit of grunge-themed, is interesting to me.
You mentioned Jeremy Scott. He’s a designer that has worked with a lot of different musicians; A$AP Rocky has really helped popularize his brands in the past few years. And similarly, you worked with Zoë Kravitz on your latest Fall campaign, and she’s big in film and music right now. Why did you select Zoë and what qualities does she share with any of your past campaign headliners? AB: I’m always looking for individuals who really are unique, and who are atypical, specifically even in the world of advertising and the faces that are typically shown in advertising. I’m a big believer in the fact that what’s considered the fringe of society is actually the majority of society. And most mass advertising shows the minority and there’s such an exclusive feel to it, and I like to de-myth that.
First of all, [Zoë]’s gorgeous, and she’s really talented, she’s multi-talented; she’s young and she’s just getting going. She has incredible style; she’s kind of fearless with her style and, I have to admit, considering who her parents are, she is one of the most unpretentious people I’ve met, and really gracious, which was really lovely and made me love her even more.
Speaking of powerful, influential women with great fashion sense, one of your biggest supporters, First Lady Michelle Obama, is a Chicagoan. How would you describe Chicago fashion sense as compared to what you see in your native New York? AB: I think Chicago is a city that really embraces the arts. In general, when I look at the architecture specifically, Art-Nouveau architecture, there’s an inherent sensibility that is very much unique. I think that Chicago tends to have a blanket that it’s a conservative city—and in some ways it is—but that being said, I always find that what amazes me about Chicago is that people really embrace the arts. They really have a thirst for it.
There’s a real strong appreciation and connection and that kind of manifests itself in the customers I meet. They want to have fun; they want to express themselves. They don’t want to sink into the masses. I think that there’s an artistic sensibility that’s also with my customers too, because I’m obviously drawing a certain subgroup.
Switching gears a little bit, with the advent of menswear wave, we’re seeing males embrace fashion much more so than their predecessors. Given this, would you ever entertain the idea of entering the men’s jewelry world? AB: It’s something that was talked about; actually Phillip Lim and I were talking about doing a collaboration on it, but right now, I am focusing on women. But I definitely think there’s a market—it needs to be in fine jewelry though.
Lastly, you’re celebrating 25 years in business this year. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned that you think will help carry you through the next 25? AB: I’d say clarity. I think as a designer, I’m a creative person as a well as a business person, but I’m a creative person and I think that in general having clarity of focus has to be the initial action, basically. Whatever it is I’m doing: Whether it’s designing, whether it’s building a business, it’s just really having true clarity and focus and writing it down.
I know that’s probably not so glamorous as an answer, but I would say that that’s been the biggest lesson. Sometimes it’s great to step back and be quiet and think about what it is you’re doing. 1710 N. Damen Ave., 773-486-5627; 61 E. Oak St., 312-649-9112