From the first lady to Lady Gaga, Alexis Bittar’s jewelry has wide appeal
Photographs courtesy Alexis Bittar. Photographs feature a selection of jewelry from the spring/summer 2013 collection by Alexis Bittar, featured in the designer’s new Greenwich boutique.
Jewelry designer Alexis Bittar has had his eye on Greenwich.
“I’ve been looking for a little while and wanted to be on that avenue,” he says.
And with the opening of an Alexis Bittar boutique late last month, he has become one of Greenwich Avenue’s newest – and most artistic – neighbors.
The new address marks his first East Coast shop outside Manhattan, joining eponymous boutiques in Chicago and California. His award-winning designs, spotted in fashion magazines and on red-carpet walkers alike, are also carried in boutiques and department stores around the world.
“Greenwich, to me, is a really interesting, obviously an interesting, microcosm of taste,” he says, adding it has “the best the world has to offer.”
Bittar says whenever he would visit Greenwich, he felt he was in a “small, tight-knit” community.
And that held great appeal for the artist who lives and has his studio in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised.
Bittar got his start in jewelry design 22 years ago, carving his pieces by hand. Today, he has 350 employees who continue the hand-carving tradition.
“I don’t know if I’m a dinosaur or a pioneer. I can’t tell,” Bittar says with a laugh.
Today, with a growing emphasis on the importance of handmade goods, there seems to be a fresh perspective on Bittar’s dedication to such intricate production methods.
“They now appreciate it,” he says. “Years ago, they didn’t care.”
The Greenwich boutique, he shares, has opened in perfect time to showcase the newest collection, one that has Bittar very excited.
“Each season I do multiple stories, so it’s a well-versed season,” he says of the spring/summer 2013 line.
A particular grouping he singles out includes a floral pin in a shape reminiscent of a pansy, the Lucite’s coloring creating a truly iridescent, shimmering effect.
Design is constant, says Bittar, who builds on past collections and reaches out in new directions.
“It’s always an evolution, because I have three collections,” he says. “Each one has an iconic DNA.”
The collections include Miss Havisham, which he calls “architectural,” based on the 1930s and influenced by the Bauhaus movement. Elements is perhaps softer, a home for paler colors and a lighter mood, while the most famous is the Lucite collection, which dates back to his earliest days when the light-catching plastic was all but ignored.
Called “The Lucite King” by some, Bittar became known for his iconic Lucite bangles. But those early hits are now just one aspect of his extensive work.
In his years in the business, Bittar says he’s “seen tremendous changes.”
“I grew up in the ’60s, late ’60s and ’70s, and I feel like the jewelry was such a powerful statement in the ’70s and ’80s.”
In the 1990s, he says, there was a real move to minimalism, but with the millennium, “I felt it was almost an explosion of ‘maximalism,’ and in jewelry, that definitely played out.”
No matter his work, Bittar says with a laugh, a common thread does emerge: “I think there’s ’80s thrown in everywhere, to be honest.”
He notes that today there are more jewelry designers than ever, with the competition always there.
“I think the Internet has really created this constant movement toward creativity.”
When he won the Council of Fashion Designers of America Accessory Designer of the Year Award in 2010, he joined a select group of jewelry designers (including Elsa Peretti and Paloma Picasso) so honored. He knew, though, there would be “way more expectations” placed on him and way more imitators.
“I knew when I won that people were going to be much more focused,” he says.
Indeed, when a mass-market designer’s name and reference to an eerily similar recent collection is mentioned, Bittar reacts as expected: “Don’t get me going.”
But no matter the imitators, Bittar’s work stands alone and accomplishes that rare feat of being both contemporary and timeless.
Shop within a shop
The Greenwich shop will also have a special section devoted to antique jewelry, as selected by noted dealer Ronald Kawitzky, president of DK Bressler on 47th Street in Manhattan.
A longtime associate, he has followed Bittar’s rise to success and says it’s certainly merited.
“He understands what’s wearable,” Kawitzky says. “He has a great eye for what looks good on women.”
Bittar says he was pleased to have “dedicated a space for him,” and Kawitzky says he was happy to fill it.
“We’ve been talking for a while about a way we could work together,” Kawitzky says. “When he told me about Greenwich, I thought that is the profile. That’s very, very much the sophisticated customer that understands his great design and also has a passion for antiques.”
And the teaming up, he adds, serves a deeper purpose.
“Alexis loves antique jewelry, too. It’s inspiration for him,” Kawitzky says, which is why the pairing will be so appropriate. “We wanted to show how the style has no date.”
He speaks of a gold bracelet he recently showcased. One might guess it’s from 1940, but it was from 1840. And price doesn’t guarantee style.
“Its doesn’t have to be precious to be fabulous design. Look at plastic jewelry from Courrèges,” he says, referencing French fashion designer André Courrèges, who rose to fame in the 1960s.
In Greenwich, Kawitzky will showcase an eclectic mix spanning a few centuries, jewelry that easily “can be worn today,” with selections rounded out by objects such as Deco boxes and other gift items.
Bittar’s fan club
“As much as I love designing and want to push the limit, I don’t want to take it so seriously,” Bittar says. He still wants “to have fun.”
That means collections are filled with playful colors and quirky accents, such as the little monkey dotting a few of the new pieces.
Now in the third decade of production, Bittar’s designs have already proven the test of time. He loves nothing more than hearing how someone has long worn a piece of his jewelry.
“It makes you feel great,” he says.
Bittar’s schedule is filled with special events and personal appearances. He plans to be on hand for the Greenwich boutique’s grand opening next month.
Though the year is still young, 2013 has also included quite a few highlights, from Bittar designing the earrings for Phillip Lim’s runway show during New York Fashion Week last month to selling his pieces to the l’Eclaireur boutique in Paris to opening his fourth Manhattan boutique.
Throughout, he looks to continue connecting with a diverse group of jewelry lovers.
“I think if you look at the range and who’s wearing it, it’s such an eclectic mix.”
And he’s right, as he reels off names from actress Cameron Diaz to singers Lady Gaga and Rihanna to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to first lady Michelle Obama, who sported an Alexis Bittar floral brooch for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last month.
“It’s bizarre, that kind of combo under one roof,” he says of his celebrated clientele.
All his admirers, though, seem to share a common trait. They are, he says, “drawn to the artistic elements of it.”
They want to stand out and “not be one of the many.”
Just like the Greenwich boutique.
Alexis Bittar is at 371 Greenwich Ave. in Greenwich. For more, visit alexisbittar.com.