Footwear designer Stuart Weitzman loves that women love their shoes so much — and he especially loves that their newest shoes so often are the favorites.
That’s what has kept his namesake label going for the past 25 years, Weitzman says.
“I feel like I really never have not been at it,” he says.
And what fueled his interest and livelihood long before that, he says, were the strong feelings women have about their footwear: appreciation for the craftsmanship of a new riding boot, the emotional high from a super-sexy stiletto, the relief of slipping on a ballet flat.
Weitzman, now 70, grew up in Long Island surrounded by shoes; his dad was also a footwear designer and shoemaker. Of course that meant a closet full of them for his mother.
“Is it nature or nurture? It’s both. It’s a craft,” Weitzman says during a recent telephone interview. “I was always artistic as a kid, I’d draw these elaborate holiday scenes as a kid, but I didn’t expect to be an artist in a commercial sense.”
He adds, “At the time I had never drawn shoes, but I’m sure as a 4-year-old, I probably pranced around in my mother’s pumps. But then I started drawing them, and people bought them. It’s cool that I was working at my hobby, and that’s never changed.”
That wasn’t always the plan, though. Weitzman wasn’t sure he was cut out for the family business, and, in fact, thought he wanted to be a Wall Street financier. He went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with that expectation.
His father died unexpectedly soon after graduation, though, and Weitzman stepped in. In 1986, he started using his own name.
He says he still thinks his business training served him well, and he realized early on that the fashion world isn’t just about creative genius. There must be a sales, distribution, manufacturing and marketing plan in place to support each design.
Weitzman — whose company sells 2 million pairs of shoes a year in 70 countries — says he can savor his success now. One of his greatest joys is being able to meet his now-adult daughters around the world and treat them to tickets at top sporting events. They’ve done Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Olympics.
“I love sports. As I get older, I continue to notice that if you continue to keep playing the sports you loved as a kid, you probably are in youthful shape.”
He’s an avid skier, tennis and pingpong player. “There’s something about that (pingpong) ball that requires reflexes, agility and quick thinking.”
Weitzman and his wife divide their time between Connecticut and Spain, which is where the manufacturing is done. They recently tackled the attic in their Connecticut house, finding boxes that had been there for 30 years. There was one marked “daddy’s things.”
Inside, Weitzman found the original U.S. design patent — with a perfectly preserved wax seal — for one of his father’s shoes from 1936. The high-heel shoe, made from gabardine, had a unique look, with two T-straps up the instep and a crisscross strap to hold the others in place. Weitzman updated it this season in snakeskin and added a platform to the front. It’s currently the brand’s No. 1 seller.
The other look important to this fall/winter season: dressy flats. “We’re making a great effort to make great looking low-heeled shoes,” Weitzman says. “We’ve gotten that message from the consumer. Most hours are spent in shoes you can walk around in.”
Boots for bad weather is another hot category. Consumers no longer accept that something has to be fashion or function. They want both, he says.
And Weitzman is eager to hear what they want next — and he says he’ll do his best to give it to them. “It’s good that women always want something new.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.