With a career spanning more than 50 years, Stuart Weitzman has dug his heels into fashion history. A sit-down with the man behind the eponymous brand.
Stuart Weitzman grew up surrounded by shoes. Born on Long Island, New York, in 1941, into a shoe-making family, Weitzman’s craft developed early on. As apprentice to his father, owner and operator of Seymour Shoes, he worked at the Mr. Seymour Shoe factory in Haverhill, Massachusetts, learning the intricate details of shoemaking, as well as designing several pairs throughout the 1960s. But the shoe business was not on Weitzman’s career radar. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1963, Weitzman had plans to conquer Wall Street instead.
However, his father’s death brought the young man back to the family business: “I’ve never looked back,” said Weitzman of his return to Haverhill, where he took over Mr. Seymour Shoes with his brother, Warren, in 1965. Weitzman’s penchant for patternmaking brought him great success, and his valuable business skills in production and distribution led to rapid expansion for Mr. Seymour Shoes. Although the company was sold in 1972, Weitzman remained president of the Mr. Seymour division, which would become the iconic Stuart Weitzman brand in 1986. For 35 years, his shoes have been designed and manufactured in Elda, Spain, earning Weitzman the title of “Hijo Predilecto Adoptivo”—meaning Favorite Adopted Son—of the city. It is an extremely rare acknowledgment: Weitzman is one of only four people to be given this honour since the end of the Spanish Civil War. Asked if he had envisioned building a global brand while apprenticing with his father, Weitzman told Mixte, “My motto has always been to design fabulous footwear that makes women smile. The success, demand and popularity of the brand have been a pleasant surprise.” No surprise here, as the iconic Nudist sandal and 5050 over-the-knee boot have become staples in the closets of celebrities and fashionistas alike. Of his trademark signature, Weitzman remarked, “I design for the modern woman, [a woman] who wants high fashion yet doesn’t have to sacrifice on comfort.”
THE MILLION DOLLAR SHOES
Despite worldwide success and designs sold in over 70 countries, Weitzman says the turning point of his career was the creation of his now cult Million Dollar Shoes. In 2002, and for several years afterward, Weitzman designed a one-of-a-kind pair of jeweled shoes to be worn by an Oscar nominee. Laura Harring, star of neo-noir film, Mulholland Drive, donned the first pair—which featured 464 diamonds on the heels—at the 2002 Academy Awards. Harring’s shoes would be the second most popular news story of the evening (despite the film’s loss). “Overnight, the […] brand became a household name,” said Weitzman, whose styles have gone on to join the leagues of Armani and de la Renta on the red carpet.
In 2012, Footwear News (a sister publication of Women’s Wear Daily, Details, W and others) honoured Weitzman with a Lifetime Achievement Award, making him the second person ever to receive such a commendation from the industry leader. But like all masters of their craft, Weitzman is constantly looking forward, seeking opportunities to be innovative in all aspects of his work. A genius collaboration between the designer and award-winning architect Dame Zaha Hadid brought a unique vision to brick and mortar, with the opening of an international flagship store in Milan in 2013 (Hong Kong followed in 2014). The boutiques by Hadid feature stunning curves and futuristic displays, the contrast of classic styles and modern design the perfect representation of a brand that is always anticipating. And with anticipation comes reinvention. The Nearlynude (the Nudist’s block-heeled sister) is showcased in the brand’s 2016 Spring campaign by models and friends Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, and Lily Aldridge – nearly nude themselves, wearing nothing but the stylish sandals, and shot by photography god Mario Testino. It is this re-imagination that inspires Weitzman’s brand essence, and has women continuing to praise his heels for their comfort and timelessness.
There is no denying that Weitzman has shaped the fashion industry, not just in his native New York City, but the world over, his vision and panache an undeniable force. He creates for the now, women everywhere his inspiration. Asked frankly if design was part of his DNA, Weitzman responded with a resounding “Yes.” We think so, too, and if the shoe fits…