Described as “One of the greatest jewelry designers of the 21st century,” we chat up jewelry designer Alexis Bittar who will be in Miami this Friday at Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour from 2 to 4 p.m. Here, he dishes on his love for Lucite, baklava and Miami.
You went from hawking your wares on the streets of New York to one of the most popular jewelers designers of today. Describe this HUGE feat: It’s not one that I can describe in a few words. That being said, I’ve always been passionate about jewelry, art and fashion. I was a young entrepreneur with parents, who were NYC schoolteachers. In 1982, when I was 13, I started selling vintage clothes at St. Mark’s in the East Village. I organically grew my business from there. I ultimately progressed from making jewelry myself, out of my apartment, to having a team of 300 employees supporting me. What really continues the momentum and success is continuing to push the boundaries between art and fashion, which is a motive that’s embedded in the company’s DNA.
You tout a curious 13th birthday present from your parents — a tangled mass of antique jewelry — as the spark that started your love for jewelry. How did this present shape your future? My parents collected rare antiques, and I inherited their love for it. I used to accompany them to flea markets and antiques shows, so I developed a keen interest starting from a very early age. When I was a teenager I’d visit Mrs. Ivers’ antique shop, which was dead in the woods of Maine, where my family had a house. She exposed me to the intricacies of antique jewelry and the craftsmanship behind its creation. The individuality of handmade antiques is so much more appealing to me than mass production, so I always design under the premise that sensibility and attention to detail are of the utmost importance. I want each piece of jewelry that I create to be a unique work of art, and a collectible in years to come.
We love the use of unique materials in your pieces. What mediums do you enjoy working with? Lucite is of course one of my most important mediums, its complexities inspire me. But each material that I work with is equally relevant to my design process, so I never discriminate!
What kind of advice would you give to budding jewelry designers? It’s so important to create your own voice, and be true to it, even if no one is appreciating it. It builds an aesthetic that becomes synonymous with the brand that you create.
If you weren’t jewelry designer, what would be plan B? I think I’d be working in non-profit micro-business development in third world countries, developing continuing education and promoting job growth for women.
If you could build a house out of any raw material, what would it be? Gingerbread and candy.
What is your guilty pleasure? Baklava and any Arabic sweets.
What do you love most about Miami? It’s a tie between the energetic art scene and the people.