It was 1930 when fashion jewelry made its first sparkling appearance onto the market, yet only in the last 20 years has the movement reached its true brilliance. Today, women don accessories out of pure desire rather than privilege, and that’s largely thanks to innovative jewelers like Alexis Bittar. Since 1990, this Brooklyn-born New Yorker has challenged conventional notions of luxury, producing a collection rooted in artisan techniques but crafted from accessible materials. Bittar’s glimmering creations have brought an entirely new meaning to the concept of semiprecious stones and metals with his use of Lucite (acrylic glass), chrysocolla (a minor ore of copper) and labradorite (a feldspar mineral).
Viva Femme: The reverence and strength of Bittar’s designs is captured in shots from his spring/summer 2013 lookbook
This out-of-the-box type of creativity takes courage, and Bittar seems to have plenty on reserve. “I started my business single-handedly and built it organically,” says Bittar, who got his start by selling his hand-carved pieces on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village.
Does this self-taught jeweler miss his street vendor days, working among the pulse of the people? “There was more simplicity back then because now I’m pretty much holed up in an office for most of the day, but no, I don’t really miss it,” he says. “There’s a lack of seeing colorful characters every day, but I’m surrounded by creative people. In some ways, my generation has become the prevailing decision-makers of fashion and art. If you’re in your 50s, 40s or even late 30s, you’re in that place where you’re at the top, basically, so I pretty much have this amazing think tank around me.”
And it’s with good reason that Bittar feels he’s a leader amongst his peers. His ability to excite the market by using experimental materials like matte car paint, PVD coating and Lucite at a time when no one else was helped him push his business to the next level. Bittar’s pragmatic nature never lets him lose sight of what’s important—and that’s well-made, highly desirable fashion accessories. “I produce the Lucite collection here in New York; to have the freedom as an artist to make quick design changes and being hands-on ensures better quality control.” His American-made pieces go through the hands of seven artisans before they’re complete.
“During a recent meeting, someone said to me, ‘You know you’re fearless, right?” says Bittar, who initially was taken by surprise then humbled by the comment. “One of the things that has helped me in design is that I am slightly fearless, particularly in terms of what I put out there on the editorial end. Obviously, if it needs to sell, I can’t be 100% fearless. Yet, with some of the things that I’m most proud of, the initial reaction was shock. Like ‘Who would ever wear that?’ And I like that, because I can always tell in my gut if a piece is good.”
And the Winner Is…: Actress Dakota Fanning presented Bittar with his 2010 CFDA award
From receiving the coveted title of Accessory Designer of the Year in 2010 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America to collaborating with the likes of Jason Wu and costume designer Patricia Field on Sex and the City, Bittar continually pushes the envelope to stay a step above the rest. “Every time I design a collection at the top, there have to be a few pieces that people look at and say, ‘Oh, my God.'”
Stately Style: First Lady Michelle Obama makes a bold statement in the ‘Elements‘ collection—and also donned Bittar on Election Night in 2012 as well as for the State of the Union address in February
What’s Bittar’s most memorable custom design partnership? “As far as brands go, I’d say Burberry. It was so powerful being that it was my first collaboration,” he says. “As far as celebrities go, it’s a tough call, but I’d say First Lady Michelle Obama. She was paramount in helping change the image of what America was capable of, in terms of change. And being connected to that even in a small way has been very impactful.”
Jewels to Covet & Collect: Alexis Bittar ‘Elements – Cordova’ Large Cuff, ‘Elements – Cordova’ Stone Ring, ‘Miss Havisham – Liquid Gold’ Orbiting Drop Earrings & ‘Miss Havisham – Liquid Gold’ Long Pendant Necklace
This summer, Bittar takes wearable art to a new level with his latest offering of his ‘Elements Cordova‘ and ‘Miss Havisham‘ collections. “Cordova is kind of a combination of American Indian/1930s influence, and I like the idea that the two are coupled,” says the designer, whose sketches start from a imaginative place rather than a need base. “’Miss Havisham’ features matte soft white enamel and gold that looks like liquid is dripping onto it. It’s very sculptural and modern.”
Where will Bittar escape to rejuvenate his creative mind during this sunny season? “I’m going to Istanbul if civil war doesn’t break out in Turkey, and my back up plan is Botswana. I love going to Africa,” he says.
If one of these exotic destinations inspires Bittar’s next collection, the one thing we’re sure of is that he’ll be creating the jewelry he wants fearlessly and with a conviction for style.
Images Courtesy of Alexis Bittar