FN Summit: The Weitzman Way

For Stuart Weitzman, creativity and business savvy go hand in hand. “The business side, the manufacturing and the creativity all just kind of flow together,” the designer told Footwear News Editorial Director Michael Atmore when the two sat down together for a live conversation on stage at the FN Summit, held last week at the Mandarin Oriental in New York.

Weitzman also doled out advice for young designers, reminisced about his first big break and talked about the rise of the luxury market. Here are some highlights:

Advice for young designers:
“You have to love it [and] commit to it. You should never get discouraged, because the next great shoe you come up with is just around the corner.”

On dividing his time between the U.S. and Europe:

“I spend half the year [at my factories in Spain], on and off. I thought [by being away so much] I would lose [out on] creating and directing the team of people that you need to build the kind of business I envisioned. But [it actually] forced me to find entrepreneurial employees.”

On the rise of high-end women’s footwear:

“What surprised me was [that] it was so long in coming. [Women] are brainwashed at age 4, when you hear about Cinderella. Then you have “The Wizard of Oz” and those red shoes, and maybe your first high heel for your sweet 16. Before you’re 18 years old, it’s all over. It’s like Madonna says: Shoes are better than sex. I think there are a lot of women out there who believe that.”

On being star-struck for the first time:
“I got a phone call from Barbara Walters [after] I was in business for just a year. It was around the time she interviewed [Henry] Kissinger, and she was pretty famous. I got on the phone and I said, ‘Hello? Is this really Barbara Walters?’ And she said, ‘Is this really Stuart Weitzman?’”

On family and succession:
“I have two terrific kids. They’re my best friends, and we do lots of things together, and they are as talented as you would want your children to be in their fields: singing and songwriting, and writing and film criticism. But there is no interest on their parts in footwear, except that they love [the shoes] and they like to come up to the showroom and fill their closets like their mother does.”

On his 2-year-old partnership with The Jones Group Inc.:
“I couldn’t do better. I needed a wonderful home for our company with people who I thought would really pay attention to what I’ve done and learned, and not think they knew it before me.”

On charity:
“If you ask me what are my passions in life, it’s helping other people because they need it. … I just came back from a school graduation in Tel Aviv, of immigrant children, a third of whom are Ethiopian, for whom my wife and I built a school. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more satisfying day than seeing what these kids got out of that school.”

On the debt crisis in Spain:
“Reading [Spanish newspapers] every day, I don’t think it is unwarranted fervor triggering all these stories. The giant bank there has collapsed. Europe doesn’t have the money to support Spain, but it doesn’t have the backbone to let it go because it will destroy the community. … I have studied the Greek [recession] because Spain was always referred to as maybe the next domino. I hope it won’t happen.”

On e-commerce:
“This is our biggest growth area. [Our e-commerce site] is our biggest store, and it has only been open for a couple years. Twenty-five percent of our sales in the U.S. go through [e-commerce channels]. It no longer surprises me, but it is a whole new way to do business and marketing.”

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