An Afternoon with Alexis Bittar

In the middle of Maine, there lies a store of antiques run by a woman whose hair was a shade of cotton candy blue. Her name is Mrs. Ivers.  One day, a boy walks in no more than eight and becomes entranced by the antique jewels that decorate the store. Enthused by the boy’s appreciation of antiques, Mrs. Ivers hands the young boy a gold wedding band from the 1920’s. Inside the band was an inscription of the date. It wasn’t too long after this moment that the boy soon learned the art of antiquing from that sweet woman with blue hair. Once he mastered the art he later progressed to selling his own jewelry on the vibrant streets of New York. This was the beginning of the man who revolutionized costume jewelry; Alexis Bittar.

There are diamonds at Cartier and strands of sterling silver at Tiffany, and then there is Alexis Bittar who shakes things up a bit with his Lucite bangles, quirky animal brooches, and pavé crystal chokers.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

These women who adorn themselves in Alexis Bittar are not your tennis bracelet soccer Moms nor are they the wallflowers at a party. “They are interested in the arts, fashion, and they are looking for something unique that is going to set them apart”  says Alexis.  You can find these women all over the globe, but the Alexis Bittar fan club certainly makes its presence known in Chicago.

The designer recently paid a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue and met with his adoring fans during his brief visit. They shared stories of how they gifted their friends with serpent chokers, and a bride mentioned how she donned Alexis Bittar chandelier earrings on her wedding day. One by one, fans would come up and share their love of the designer with Alexis’s undivided attention.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

On display were all three of his distinct collections. Regarding his collections he shares  “I think it always looks artistic and feels unique. There’s always something a little bit off”.  As one looks through each case, the many inspirations of Alexis Bittar were at the forefront. He mentions that he draws his inspiration from architecture, art, furniture, and jewelry with a melding of multiple eras.  Inside the cases were touches of Dynasty glamour, art deco of the 1930’s, and hints of seduction with Swarovski crystal serpents.

Alexis even guided some fans through his extensive collection by sharing his favorite pieces and giving styling tips. It was clear that women were drawn to him for his eye-catching designs and charismatic personality, but I wanted to know more about the man who was pegged as one of the greatest jewelry designers of the 21st century.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

The first thing I realized was that when perusing the jewelry counters, the designs of Alexis Bittar certainly don’t fade into the background. Because of the versatility and high-fashion elements, it’s not surprising that Alexis Bittar has created a name for himself in the world of fashion for more than 25 years.

For Alexis, the journey began when he was gifted a lot of antique jewelry for his 13th birthday. Even though his parents were professors, they had a love of antiques. This meant that Alexis was constantly surrounded by beautiful sources of inspiration. Intrigued by the precious jewels that were presented before him, the entrepreneurial bug bit him pretty hard and he decided to sell his lot on the streets of St. Mark’s Place in New York.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

After years of selling antique jewelry, at age 22 Alexis Bittar began creating his eponymous line. He shares that  “At a certain point I felt that I had been versed in antique jewelry and the history of jewelry and I wanted to design things that I hadn’t seen”. Alexis had spent years always looking at jewelry, but there was something missing. There was a void that needed to be filled, and Alexis was the one that stepped up to the plate.

Lucite was one of the missing elements that Alexis did not see in other jewels, so he began by hand carving the luminous plastic in his one bedroom apartment. He remains the only designer to use the sculpted plastic so extensively in his luxury pieces. His affinity towards Lucite was sparked by his interest in a precious material of the 1930’s. Alexis shares “I was intrigued by a plastic that was used a lot in the 30’s called Bakelite. They used it in jewelry, they used it in furniture, and it’s super collectible and was hand carved. I like the idea of treating a plastic as a material to sculpt”.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

Pleased with the results of his unique creations, Alexis Bittar returned to the street vendor scene and sold his own line of luxurious jewelry; this time on the streets of SoHo.

Today the streets of SoHo are packed with street vendors selling their goods and fashionable wares up and down the famous block. However, this practice wasn’t always as lucrative as it is today. At the time, Alexis was one of the pioneers of the street vendor scene. He shares “I sold on the street and that’s how I started the businesses. I didn’t have any money and I really built it from nothing” He was just one of six vendors on the corner of Prince and Greene Streets.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

After years of selling his pieces, it didn’t take long for Alexis to grab the attention of some pretty important names in fashion. It started with Bergdorf Goodman’s Dawn Mello who gave the designer his first introduction to retail. Then Saks came knocking on his door after a trade show. But then four women from New York City came along and sipped on Cosmos while adorning their wrists in his famed Lucite bangles and statement necklaces. You may know them as Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda.

Alexis Bittar soon succeeded in his mission of making costume jewelry come at the forefront of fashion. “When I started, the world of costume jewelry wasn’t a branded commodity” says Alexis. Soon celebrities and political figures started putting away their dainty necklaces and bracelets in exchange for a taste of some ostentatious glamour.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

Joining the esteemed Alexis Bittar fan club was none other than First Lady Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, and Cameron Diaz. These are just a few names that line the celebrity roster of Alexis Bittar adorners.

Alexis has even made his way into the Lyons family Empire with a collection inspired by everyone’s favorite fierce matriarch Cookie Lyons. Like many, Alexis is a fan of Cookie and amazed at how popular the show became. He shares ” I think any gay man can relate to Cookie on some level or they want to be Cookie” And what better way to emulate Cookie Lyons than adorning yourself in the glamorous Empire CollectionCookie served as an inspiration for the line according to Alexis because “she has a very good ability taking high fashion and making it accessible and also making it wearable and relevant. It’s not just runway, she’s real. We all have met Cookie”.

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

At this point, it’s impossible to not have been already properly acquainted with Alexis Bittar. When fashion week comes around Alexis Bittar designs have been seen parading down the runways of Jason Wu, Phillip Lim, and Thierry Mugler. Celebrities such as Zoe Kravitz and fashion icon Iris Apfel have also been featured in his electrifying campaigns. The pages of Vogue and your television screens have made it impossible to ignore the influence of Alexis Bittar.

While Alexis Bittar has a slew of accolades under his belt, he shares  that his proudest moment came in 2010 when he won the prestigious CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year. He remains one of five jewelry designers who have won the award joining the likes of Paloma Picasso and Elsa Peretti. For Alexis “Being with that kind of grouping was a huge honor”

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

The former street vendor has certainly come a long way from the streets of SoHo. And he’s no longer making bangles in his one bedroom apartment. Instead, all of the collections are handmade by a team of artisans in Brooklyn.

Reflecting on how far he has come Alexis shares that if he could tell his younger self one thing it would be “you need to be really clear about what you are striving to do and accomplish. Really write it out” From 5-year business plans to 10-year goals, Alexis Bittar has a written detailed plan for how he wants his life to look. This is a practice that he still continues today. When drafting his goals he goes in with the mindset  “If I was to die in 5 years, what would I feel I haven’t accomplished”

Alexis Bittar Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago

With a slew of accolades, one can only imagine what type of legacy Alexis Bittar will leave behind. As we wrap up our afternoon, he paints the picture of his legacy with the following message “That the name and brand Alexis Bittar signifies unique and artistic jewelry, that makes you feel beautiful”

I think it’s safe to say that Alexis Bittar’s legacy has already come to fruition.  Just to think, it all started at an antique store in Maine with a woman whose hair was the shade of cotton candy blue.

Here’s to many more years of serpents, chokers, and Lucite.