Mr. Shoe Biz

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Every woman remembers the first time she fell in love with Stuart Weitzman.

For me, it was when I purchased a pair of his moody blue, deep purple suede peep-toe pumps with a ribbon bow on the front. I had flirted with Stuart before, of course, years ago with a pair of black peau de soie peep-toes bearing an abstract rhinestone “S.” (Where are they now, I wonder?) And then there are the classic neutral patent-leather spiked high heels that go with everything.

But for me, nothing will ever top Stuart’s rhapsody in blues.

“You can’t wear those to the supermarket, though,” says Stuart, chairman and designer of Stuart Weitzman Holdings L.L.C.

No, of course not, well, maybe. I have certainly worn them during the best and the worst moments of my life, to accent an LBD, because I know that no matter what, with Stuart’s shoes on my feet, I’m assured of putting my best foot forward.

Stuart knows just what I mean.

“A shoe can ruin your day, or it can make it,” he says.

And that’s why Stuart Weitzman’s shoes marry style and comfort, luxurious materials with sumptuous silhouettes. He demonstrates their voluptuousness in the sleek showroom of his Manhattan headquarters, holding up strappy gladiators, vixenish, thigh-high boots and sexy, peekaboo booties – the world’s most glamorous shoe salesman. If you’re a shoe aficionado – and what woman isn’t? – it’s hard not to swoon in rapture.

There’s no business…

Stuart, a Fairfield County resident, is as elegant as his footwear, looking dapper in a bright blue knit pullover, white slacks and socks and buttery taupe buckskin lace-ups that he made for himself from fine cowhide. Stuart does not make shoes for men, explaining his decision with ready stats that reveal a quick mind, the kind that can range in conversation fluidly from baseball to brain surgery. The average man buys 1.8 pairs of shoes a year, he says. But the average woman buys 14 pairs. You do the math. It’s a no-brainer.

The Stuart Weitzman woman is, however, anything but average. She’s a fashionista, a professional woman, a bride falling in love – with his footwear – for the first time.

“That’s how they get to know us,” he says of the brides, queens for a day.

But his devotees embrace some real queens, including Latifah. “She’s my favorite,” Stuart says. And the Queen B – Beyoncé. “Everyone should see her once in his lifetime. It was epic,” he says of one of her recent concerts.

The man whose $1 million Swarovski-crystal sandals graced the Oscars’ red carpet has never lacked for Hollywood admirers. Look, there’s Jennifer Aniston on the set in Stuart’s Alex wedges or Diane Kruger at a Fox party in his black goosebump nappa Nudist heels. But perhaps no female luminary has had more synergy with Stuart’s footwear than supermodel Kate Moss, who galvanizes the company’s fall campaign, shot in black and white by Mario Testino, wearing boots that are made for walking – luxuriant thigh highs, combat lace-ups, men’s-inspired Chelseas and the iconic over the knee 5050s, celebrating their 20th anniversary – and very little else.

“Fashion is the extreme. It’s the edge,” Stuart says. And few have more staying power and edge than Kate, WAG’s January cover girl.

“When she started out, she had that rebel streak,” he remembers. “She’s very street-savvy. She doesn’t have to wear designer clothes. She can go into Zara, put on an outfit and look perfectly stylish.”

So can the girls who pair their floral print dresses with UGGs in the Miami heat.

“The runway shows, the big fashions start in the streets,” Stuart says. “Those kids find things in cheap shops and they make them work.”

What trends have bubbled up from the streets for fall? Stuart ticks them off:

“Mannish footwear – tassel loafers and lace-up shoes, though you can put a heel on them – kitten heels, neutrals, taupes, animal prints, blues.”

But he adds that this season, it’s not about color.

“Last year, someone needed burgundy. Now it’s all about the silhouette.”

And the silhouette everyone wants is the boot.

Here, though, is the thing, the genius of Stuart Weitzman: His footwear is made of rich, generous fabrics and cut in such a way that even those of us with size 8 ½ D tootsies and ample calves can feel like a Kate Moss, if only for a moment.

“That’s a big aspect of our company. A lot of companies are so focused on the design, they forget the customer. It costs $2 a pair to make (four) widths,” Stuart says of the more than 400 styles, which come in sizes 4 to 12. “At our price range that’s nothing to produce, because if the shoe hurts, you can’t wear it. It affects your personality.”

Stuart, who has a playful wit, is fond of paraphrasing Madonna: “My shoes are better than sex.”

A “shoe”-in

Fine for Madonna. But why does he think those of us who are less than goddesses are so passionate about what we put on our feet?

“It starts with Cinderella,” he says. “She’s the real hero of the story, not the prince. Nearly every little girl idolizes her. Then there’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – Dorothy and the magic ruby slippers.”

For girls, just as with Cinderella and Dorothy, shoes are a rite of passage. Growing up on Long Island, Stuart remembers his father – shoe designer Seymour Weitzman of Mr. Seymour – promising Stuart’s sister a pair of high heels for her Sweet Sixteen. And that’s all she talked about and really wanted.

“Shoes do two things: Anyone can wear the shoes Kate Moss has. You’re not going to wear her bathing suit or her dress. But you can wear her shoes and feel great in them. And shoes become a memory.”

Certainly, a special pair has for Stuart’s wife, Jane, who was the chief designer of his Manhattan store windows for more than a decade. (Her book, “Art & Sole: More Than 150 Fantasy Art Shoes From the Stuart Weitzman Collection,” is just out from HarperCollins.) They were dating and living in Boston (in the same building, Stuart, ever the gentleman, notes, but not in the same apartment), and Jane needed a pair of pumps for an event. Stuart delivered the handmade goods and while Jane liked them, she failed at first to notice the inscription inside – “Made Expressly For Mrs. Stuart Weitzman.”

As quick as her husband, she remarked, “Does this mean I’m not getting a ring?”

She got the ring – along with two daughters and a granddaughter. Told she’s a lucky woman, Stuart gallantly replies, “I’m the lucky one.”

Yet for all his passionate philosophizing about shoes, Stuart candidly acknowledges that at first he didn’t want anything to do with his father’s business. That was his brother Warren’s turf. Stuart, who attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, had dreams of Wall Street. And then their father became ill and died.

“I have always looked at tragedy as a way to make opportunity,” he says.

As a child he had apprenticed under his father at the Mr. Seymour factory in Haverhill, Mass., learning pattern-making, production and distribution. With his father’s death, the 22-year-old Stuart plunged into the business. Over the years, it has gone through several acquisitions, mergers and expansions. What’s never changed is the quality. Today, the brand looks to the Far East and e-commerce as continuing new frontiers.

It’s not all work for the man who makes the most stylish sneakers you’ll ever see. The southpaw loves to play tennis (fellow lefty Rod Laver was his favorite though he enjoyed Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors as well) and recently competed as a member of the U.S. table tennis team in the Maccabiah Games, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Olympics. (Among the showroom’s distinctive features is a mural of pingpong balls.)

Much of Stuart’s time, however, is spent in Spain, where for the past 35 years, his shoes and handbags have been manufactured in Elda and the surrounding region. There he is known as “Don Stuart” – a don to rival Quixote and Juan.

Don Stuart, though, probably has more women – fans – than Don Juan ever did.

“I do,” Stuart says, “but Don Juan had more fun.”

Given the joy that the brand has brought to so many feminine hearts, we sincerely doubt it.

For more, visit Stuart Weitzman shops in The Westchester, White Plains, on Greenwich Avenue and online at stuartweitzman.com.

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