There are plenty of creative teenagers in New York City, but few of them have the drive, passion, and indisputable talent of Alexis Bittar. In the mid-eighties, Bittar began selling jewelry in downtown Manhattan at the age of 13. Starting with an outdoor stall of vintage pieces on St. Marks Place, he eventually began selling his own designs farther downtown on the streets of SoHo. By the end of his teens, when most young adults are at keg parties talking about their college internships, Bittar was well on the way up his career ladder. “By the time I was 19 and 20, I knew I could do this,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what that meant really–I didn’t know what that entailed–but I knew I had the potential to do it.”
“In all respects, I had to learn it,” he continues, “but in terms of being able to have the vision of the design sensibility, understanding fashion and feeling that I could do it on a large scale, I believed in myself.”
That confidence and conviction has certainly paid off. Two decades later, Bittar’s three distinctive lines of jewelry–Lucite, Elements, and Miss Havisham–are sold in department stores and tastemaker boutiques around the globe, as well as at his flagship store in SoHo, just a few blocks from where his street stall once was.
Bittar’s work appeals to everyone from French Vogue‘s Carine Roitfeld and the world’s top fashion stylists to the suburban women who flock to his trunk shows. His expansive collection includes the extremely wearable bright Lucite bangles he’s best known for to huge, spiky cuffs and neckpieces that appear monthly in both domestic and international fashion magazines.
These days, Bittar is based in Dumbo, where he still designs everything and runs the company’s business side, which includes a staff of around 160. All the brand’s creations are made by hand in the multi-floored studio, in a cavernous room of craftspeople who use Bittar’s original (and often unique) techniques, like dotting color on Lucite with methodical fingertip taps to give it a watercoloresque feel.
Juggling it all takes discipline and a precise schedule, which suits Bittar perfectly. “I do well under pressure,” he explains. “Because the business is a functioning machine and there are pressures, I’m forced be creative. I do well with deadlines and I’ve learned that I love structure. I seem to thrive on it.”
At a time when many fashion brands are feeling the effects of the recession, Bittar’s business is flourishing, and understandably so. After all, one of his bold statement pieces can make even the simplest (and inexpensive!) t-shirt and jeans feel new. But don’t think that success is going to go to Bittar’s head, “Because I built the business up literally from the ground, I don’t take anything for granted,” he admits. “I don’t expect anything.”
But from Alexis Bittar, you can continue to expect plenty of big and beautiful new things.
For more information on Alexis Bittar’s jewelry, go to www.alexisbittar.com