Brooklyn native Alexis Bittar founded his namesake jewelry company in 1990. Among the highlights of his career are designing Burberry’s first jewelry collection, creating special pieces for “Sex and the City” and collaborating with Michael Kors and Jason Wu on runway pieces.
How involved are you in the design at this point, and how do you split your time with business?
Well I’m the CEO so I am deeply involved in all aspects of the business. As we’re growing, my time is split between managing, strategic development and then designing.
Is everything produced here in New York?
Pretty much. We don’t do our metal components here but we do all of the Lucite here. It’s not something we could outsource even if we wanted too. The stones are cut in India, wood from Vietnam; metals come from China and Lucite from here.
What about your color stories — how are you inspired?
It’s more historic than traveling for me. My background is very heavily influenced by antiques — furniture, paintings, jewelry.
Do you work with people on one of kind pieces for runway?
Yes, my most recent collaboration was with Jeremy Scott, but I’ve done Jason Wu and Michael Kors.
You started out as an antiques dealer. How did you make the transition from the antique business to designing jewelry?
I sold on the street since I was 10 and started with plants and flowers. When I was 13, I started selling vintage jewelry on St. Marks, and kind of used the antique jewelry as a way to be on St. Marks – it was the punk capital, so for me that’s where I wanted to be. I sold antique jewelry for 7 years and dropped out of school, and then I basically got my shit together and started designing. I didn’t have an “in” in fashion, I just knew I loved fashion and art and jewelry and started designing. I was really obsessed with the vintage stories and what each piece meant.
I noticed a lot of your pieces are sold at MoMA or the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
I feel like I wanted to be considered collectible. I think coming from being an antiques dealer, I understood the value of how to make something collectible and how it transcends time and increases in value.
Is there an age range that you think your customer is at?
I think unlike ready to wear or contemporary brands that are so age specific, I don’t fall into that. I definitely have a fashion base and the women were more mature but over the last 10 years it’s become a much younger customer. I like the fact that when I’m designing and thinking about who would wear a piece, I can think of a 65 year old woman as well as a 24 year old girl that thinks it’s cool.
You just brought a lot of new investors on board. How do you think things will change?
I have total control of the design of the business but it will bring in strategic partnerships. We’re going to be opening more retail stores, extending into other categories, fine jewelry being the first, and working more on a international level.
Has there been discussion about expanding into area other than jewelry?
Yes, we will be going into watches, handbags and sunglasses.
Do you connect with your customers through social media?
I am totally computer illiterate and that’s kind of the joke around here. I check my email and that’s about it. I don’t have a computer at home, but, that said, our company does have a Facebook and Twitter account. I have personally never been on Facebook. We definitely have a lot of room to grow in that area of the business but I keep myself out of that part.
What are your favorite hobbies other than designing jewelry?
Shopping for antiques, even though it’s work related. I love walking my dog — I just got a puppy a year ago and it changed my life. I am also an avid bike rider.
As a native New Yorker do you think it contributed to your design aesthetic?
Definitely. Growing up in this city you are much more aware -your artistically inclined. The fact I was on St. Marks Place at 13 is pretty crazy and I don’t know if that could exist somewhere else.