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If the shoe fits, he makes it

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / October 6, 2011

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WHO: Stuart Weitzman

WHAT: The luxury shoe magnate was in Boston on Tuesday at Saks Fifth Avenue. Although he grew up in New York, Weitzman learned his craft at his father’s Haverhill factory. ‘‘I’m a businessman,’’ he says. ‘‘I learned how to run a business and not just create fanciful footwear. I will design flats, and then the next day I might be designing evening shoes. In the end what I’m doing is filling out a collection with my signature on it.’’

Q. You’re a bit of a Haverhill legend. How did you wind up there?

A. I worked there in my father’s factory when I got out of college. I became a Haverhill-ite for about six years. That’s where I learned all the shoe-making skills. It was like graduate school for me. I had just finished what I thought was the only business school I needed. But the practical world of the shoe industry is a little bit different than the one you learn in school.

Q. It seems logical that you would wind up in the family business, but did you always have a passion for shoes?

A. My passion for shoes came from growing up in a household with a mom who was a bit glamorous. My dad loved to dress her in really beautiful shoes. They were always all over the floor and all over the house. My little sister was dragging them out of the closet and strutting around every room in them. I probably tried them too. I became fascinated with the architecture of a lady’s shoe.

I planned to break the bank on Wall Street, but I got a certain thrill out of seeing designs that I sketched executed and bought by women in some fine stores in New York. I worked in the factory during the summers and then decided to try a year there before figuring out if I was going to go on to Wall Street. I stayed there for six years. That hooked me. The shoe industry has had me all my life.

Q. Do you remember the first pair that you designed?

A. Well, my dad was proud enough to bronze them. I don’t think he ever bronzed my baby shoes, but he did bronze my first shoe design. And that shoe is now proudly displayed in my New York showroom.

Q. I imagine it was very much of its time.

A. It is, but it’s a style that has returned. As you know, fashion is about cycles, and things do return in different ways. That shoe would absolutely sell today with the trend toward kitten heels. I made it in the late 1960s and it turned out to be a big seller for my father. But I’m sure he helped make it a big seller. He was proud. As a father with two daughters, I understand that a little better now.

Q. Do you have a favorite era of shoe design? An era that meshed for you both artistically and stylistically?

A. I never really liked one more than another. I work within the modernity of where we are and the attitude of women. Ladies no longer can be forced to wear something they don’t want. Whereas when my dad was creating footwear the girdle was part of every lady’s wardrobe and you wore what you were told by the stores. Now it’s varied. Liberation of attitude has affected fashion as much as the workplace or anything else for American women. We now dance to their music rather than them dancing to ours.

Q. Who’s your muse?

A. I design for the great lawyer or the celebrity or the glamorous lady or the fashionista or the older woman who is more interested in comfort rather than showing off on a runway. I’m really designing for lots of different women, and women use shoes to show a part of their personality to a great extent.

Q. It sounds like you’re a fairly prolific designer.

A. I’m also a shoe engineer, and when you can do that, you think about multiple product and not just one pure attitude. I learned shoe engineering in my father’s factory. Many designers don’t have that skill.

Q. A culture has developed around fetishizing luxury shoes. Is it something that’s always been there?

A. Luxury fashion has gotten stronger, but it’s always been there. It was once very exclusive and limited, and therefore not so recognizable. Today you have luxury stores in every mall in every city in the world, and it brings products to the whole population.

Interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.

WHO
Stuart Weitzman
WHAT
The luxury shoe magnate was in Boston on Tuesday at Saks Fifth Avenue. Although he grew up in New York, Weitzman learned his craft at his father’s Haverhill factory. “I’m a businessman,’’ he says. “I learned how to run a business and not just create fanciful footwear. I will design flats, and then the next day I might be designing evening shoes. In the end what I’m doing is filling out a collection with my signature on it.’’