The Footwear Forerunner
Stuart weitzman opens up to dress to kill magazine about the future of fashion, his design fundamentals, and doing what you love.
By Brenna Dixon
Mr. Weitzman elegantly greets me with a gentle laugh. He emphasizes that he is always up for speaking about shoes and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss his passion. “I love to talk about shoes, especially with women,” he chuckles happily. Having grown up in the family shoe business, he describes his father as a “wonderful designer.” However, he explains, “I had no desire to join them. I was going to conquer Wall Street.” As a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, his artistic notions remained simple pastimes.
Following the passing of his father, his brother asked him to help out with some sketching. “My brother asked me to sketch out some shoes for him, and guess what? You ladies love them! I couldn’t get over it! I was a young kid, and ladies were buying them,” he recalls excitedly. He continues, “I remember jumping up and down when I saw them in store windows.” He said that was his turning point. He asked his brother if he could work for him for a while to see if that was where he wanted to stay. From that point onward, Stuart Weitzman started his business.
His father passed down his most cherished lessons regarding the fundamentals of shoemaking. “He always stressed the technology of the product over anything else, including the fit, the last making, the heel construction, and the comfort. I really learned his shoe making fundamentals. Usually designers don’t really care about that aspect of design because they just want to make something beautiful or sexy and unique, letting you suffer (and you will). My father instilled the importance of the technology of shoe making in me.” He immediately enrolled in a pattern making school to learn how to make an “outline” and how to construct a shoe. He considers these lessons his most valuable assets to this day. It is needless to say that Weitzman has been able to mix the best of both worlds: technology and creativity.
He notes, “I was originally a businessman. I considered designing only to be a hobby. When I am creating a collection, I am always thinking about the business side of the shoe. I am thinking about how to construct it and how to make it more manufacturable in terms of costing less to achieve the same result. These are things a designer doesn’t naturally consider.”
Stuart Weitzman has been in the shoe business for 25 years and is definitely doing something right. However, the industry has seen a dramatic change over the past few years. The influx of technology and the means of communication have infiltrated every industry. He has had to alter his vision to adapt accordingly. He explains, “The young attitude in fashion has taken hold. Everyone wants to think, look and feel younger without looking silly of course. That’s the greatest change. We can no longer rely on running a business with just classic shoes. Today, classic is boring, so even those models have a twist. That’s the greatest change I see: the attitude of the consumer.” He realizes that as he grows older he risks missing the nuances of the younger generation and ultimately being out of touch. “You can’t do it alone,” he says. In his New York office, there are 80 employees, and nearly 75 of them are under the age of 40. Stuart uses his consumer as the barometer for his creations. He states, “I always say it’s not a great shoe until the consumer goes out to vote. The vote of course is: I’ll take these.”
“The fashionistas are a year ahead of the marketplace. They are the ones who make the look and the attitude of fashion more amenable to a regular consumer,” Stuart explains. On the topic of “fashionistas,” Stuart elaborates on his SS16 campaign with Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, and Lily Aldridge: “that was a big change for us because we had previously only been with absolutely iconic ladies such as Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen, for example. Our websites and our customers’ websites are selling nearly more than all our stores in the US,” he claims. He elaborates on the new campaign: “I felt it was time to get our message across to this other media, to the social media world. These three girls together have 20 million followers and their enthusiasm was like a pyjama party without the pyjamas!” He laughs, referring to the most provocative image from the SS16 campaign. The girls are nude, covering their essentials modestly with the strategic placement of their arms. “They relate to my customers under 30,” Weitzman states.
Today, designers are constantly re-inventing themselves in order to showcase their collections and appeal to the appropriate demographic. However, finding inspiration isn’t as easy as it seems; “not all designers are inspired. We don’t just walk into the studio and sketch a shoe. It doesn’t happen that way. We look for inspiration. Sometimes it finds us, sometimes we find it, and sometimes we’re missing it.” Stuart explains that over the years he has protected himself from missing inspiration by drawing on a series of muses such as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Onassis—a group of inspirational women for whom the breadth of his collections are based. The pillars of the Weitzman collections are created with a specific mechanism; “the truth is that I make footwear with one overall DNA: that it is current, comfortable and functional.”
His global success is obviously due to the multitude of skills, talent, and craftsmanship put into every single design. He quotes one of his first muses, Marilyn Monroe, “If you give a woman a great pair of shoes, she can conquer the world. That is why shoes are so special for women.” Shoes are as special to women as they are to Stuart. His entire world has circled around this particular accessory, through its ups and downs. His perspective on his successful career is similar to his character, gentle and soft: “If you do something that you have put a lot of time into doing well and you really want to get better at it, and you love doing it, success will come. It will come because you will always do it better. I never really thought about success, and it’s still as exciting to me when Beyoncé wears a pair of my shoes at the Super Bowl, as it was the first time a celebrity ever wore a pair. It’s still a thrill. It’s a thrill because all of those girls could have any shoe in the world for free, and they choose mine. That is when I know that I have done a good job over my competition.”
His relaxed responses are as natural and comfortable as his designs. His footwear is seen on models running from show to show, to corporate lawyers and doctors. It is no doubt that he has risen above his competition. What we, as the consumer, value most about his creations is also what Stuart himself values: “what I hear about my shoes the most is that they are so comfortable. That is satisfaction for me because that is what my father taught me.” Comfort is an overarching theme for Mr. Weitzman. Besides creating the latest footwear phenomenon, he strives to live a quiet life: “I try to take care of myself and do what I love. It makes for no stress whatsoever and, maybe, I can do it for another 20 years.” He doesn’t live according to any rules or mantras. His favourite pastimes are spending time with his daughters and wife, playing sports, and designing. “I’m a really simple guy. Give me a tennis racket, lunch with my two daughters and wife, and I am happy. I don’t need a yacht. I leave that stuff for other friends of mine.”
It is crystal clear that Mr. Weitzman’s career choices have made all the difference, not only in the footwear industry but also in allowing him to do what he loves. He advises, “Choose something you love to do and you will do it well. If you start out with something that you can’t get yourself out of bed to do, you have to change. Don’t get stuck with something that you don’t want to spend the majority of your time doing. Don’t get stuck in the trap of doing a job that you aren’t excited to do everyday.”