When I discovered Alexis Bittar was going to be at Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue last Friday, I wanted to meet him! Alexis Bittar jewelry has graced the pages of Second City Style and has been selected by our editors time and time again. I wanted to learn how these wonderful wearable sculptures are crafted, and the inspiration behind them.
Alexis Bittar is a regular guy from Brooklyn, New York. He has no formal training in art. In fact he said he smoked pot all through high school and didn’t last long at a local college. He does credit his parents, both professors, for constantly exposing him to art and culture when he was growing up.
He sold jewelry at the flea market in Chelsea, and enjoyed the nightlife. Soon he realized he would have to do something more. At age 22 the self-taught designer began designing with Lucite. He figured out a way to carve Lucite into jewelry, much like Bakelite was carved in the 1920s. His technique was really like nothing else done before. Unlike resin jewelry which is poured into a mold, Lucite comes in sheets like thick glass. Since Lucite was a material he knew how to work with, he wound up developing a unique, revolutionary craft in jewelry making.
Alexis: Lucite jewelry wasn’t an easy sell. For the first ten years no one got it. People were not into bright colors at the time, everyone was into black. But then there were a few breakthroughs, or perhaps defining moments: In 1999-2000 I did a couture line for Burberry, and then in 2000 Lori Goldstein used one of my pieces for a worldwide Estee Lauder Campaign. I think she made the right prediction. And then in the second season of Sex and the City, Kim Cattrell wore one of my pieces in just about every show as well as in the movie.
SCS: Who are the celebrities that wear your jewelry?
Alexis: (his head sort of spiraling) Oh well, there’s Cameroin Diaz, Zaha Adid, Madeliene Albright, Alicia Keys, Debbie Harry…
SCS: Just about every woman! And how is your jewelry mass produced? Do you have a lot of craftspeople making the jewelry?
Alexis: Yes I have 160 employees and the pieces are all hand carved and painted. They all follow specifications and guidelines, so they will look exactly alike, but no two pieces will really be exactly alike.
SCS: Tell me about the inspiration for your pieces.
YES! I LOOK FORWARD TO #GROWINGYOUNGER
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Alexis: Well there are actually 3 lines. "Lucite" is the hand sculpted, hand painted and gilded jewelry that I have done for 18 years. Nordstrom carries a lot of these basic pieces. "Elements" is a second line that is nature inspired, uses some different materials like metals and amethyst, and inspired by the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then for the last 3 years there is "Miss Habersham" which is an all metal, 1980’s Grace Jones inspired collection. I guess a lot of my inspiration is art and architecture based. And yes there is a fourth line coming out…using all gold and silver.
I work with a lot of stylists for photo shoots for magazines like Italian Vogue, French Vogue and American Vogue.
SCS: Are those one-of-a-kind pieces?
Alexis: Sometimes it is just for one shoot, or sometimes it becomes requested or then get watered down a bit (these pieces can be quite a lot) and then goes into the line for sale.
(Then he sent an email on his phone to have a spring ’09 line sheet sent to me, and read an email coming in.)
You know, I’ve been working my ass off for 18 years, and I don’t take time off, I really should take time off… but anyway, I am still like a little kid. I got an email to do something and now I am thinking about it already.
SCS: Can you tell me what it is?
Alexis: This email says "Grace Coddington loves this necklace… she want to shoot for Vogue… for a jumpsuit story… can you do a piece? Maybe like a bow tie?"
SCS: So now your wheels are turning and you’re starting to design something in your head? You can’t stop working!
Alexis: Yes, I am already thinking about what I can do…it’s like I still want to show off that I can design.
SCS: Good, good. Please continue to show off!
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Jewelry Photos: courtesy of Alexis Bittar