It’s fitting that Stuart Weitzman is making its New York Fashion Week debut on Feb. 8 at The Pool, a stylish restaurant that recently opened inside the landmark space that formerly occupied The Four Seasons.
Much like the venue, the storied brand has been updated and refreshed — and Weitzman’s new team is ready to make a statement.
“This is an important moment for us because we start to be part of the fashion conversation,” said Giovanni Morelli, creative director. He took the design reins last May and recently unveiled his first full collection for pre-fall. “We want to have a broader audience and be more assertive in terms of design,” Morelli said. (Company namesake Stuart Weitzman retired last year.)
Make no mistake, though — Morelli and CEO and brand president Wendy Kahn understand that the Weitzman DNA must be remain intact as they plot their own strategy. “The foundation is strong and solid. We aren’t looking to disrupt that. We have a great place to evolve from,” said Kahn, who took the business helm at the Tapestry Inc.-owned label in 2016.
Weitzman, which has been a standout in a challenging climate, is saluted by retailers and consumers alike for its sharp pricing, quality, comfort and fit. It’s well-known for popular styles like the Nudist, a red carpet favorite, and its go-to boot collection, but the label has never been considered directional.
Morelli — who racked up years of accessories experience at Prada, Chloé, Marc Jacobs and, most recently, Loewe — is quickly putting his stamp on product, branding and store design. “I have a lot of respect for the work that has been done,” he said. “Now I have a platform to build another layer.”
The pre-fall assortment is full of recognizable Weitzman styles, but they have a distinct point of view. The creative director explored new heel and toe shapes for the Nudist — and incorporated more color, texture and hardware into the overall offering. “My favorite part is the hardware,” Morelli said. “It gives another layer to the brand.”
Another highlight: a new take on the classic stretch boot, a best-seller that typically is produced with microfiber and now comes in other materials, such as patent leather. “The stretch is part of our history, so we want to retain that. But we have new interpretations,” Kahn said.
The brand is also pushing the boundaries of the evening category. For example, Morelli showed off a jewel-embellished pool slide and wants to explore dress-up flats and sneakers as alternatives to heels.
The team is also working on developing its “wardrobe essentials” program — the perfect pump, sandal or loafer that customers can buy in multiples. “Every season, we’re going to focus on a different category,” Kahn noted. “Many footwear brands have a core replenishment [program], and we recognize the function of that. You’re really offering a service.”
Morelli believes in the power of the pump, in particular. “It’s a big investment for everyone,” he said, noting that it’s critical to offer a wide variety of heel heights to meet consumer demand. “It’s like finding a shirt [you love] — you stick with it.”
While shoes will continue to be the brand’s bread and butter, the team will officially launch handbags for fall. Morelli, who was the architect of many of Loewe’s hit bags, was eager to dive into the category. “We focused on the idea of creating a bag out of a shoebox and taking that concept into the rest of the collection,” he said. The styles range from clutches to carryalls — and some are embossed with Stuartweitzman.com, a clever nod to the e-commerce site. Kahn said Morelli’s experience gives the brand instant credibility and confidence in the category. “This is an independent business for us,” she said.
Morelli has also modified the brand’s logo — and its signature color. A vibrant hue that the creative director calls “Blue Violet” replaces the previous purple packaging. The color also is incorporated in the footbeds of the shoes — and plays prominently in the new store design.
Morelli also used the shade for plush carpeting in a fresh store concept that debuted last month in Beverly Hills, Calif. The look will be rolled out soon in shops in Dubai and United Arab Emirates, and in Bloomingdale’s in New York. “Shopping for shoes has to be a fun experience,” Morelli said. “You have to have a vibe and a point of view.” As the creative direction takes shape, Kahn is evaluating expansion opportunities across the world, particularly in Asia.
“It’s a booming market for us. We’re fortunate to have that customer excited about where the brand is going,” Kahn said. “She wants more from us.” As the strategy unfolds, retailers globally are decidedly upbeat on what they’ve seen so far. And Tapestry CEO Victor Luis is clearly banking on the new team.
“I could not be more excited about the next chapter at Stuart Weitzman,” Luis said. “Under Wendy’s business leadership and Giovanni’s creative leadership, the brand is poised to explore uncharted creative territory and continue its evolution as a global multi-category luxury retail brand. Giovanni has a bold vision with proven experience in blending creative design with craftsmanship and functionality that consumers across the world love. We are all excited to see the evolution.”
Retailers were also upbeat about Weitzman’s future. “Giovanni has expanded upon the brand’s language with his own modern point of view, while still maintaining the core Stuart Weitzman DNA,” said Tracy Margolies, chief merchant at Saks Fifth Avenue. “From updating the branding to adding new elements of novelty, his attention to detail, respect for the craft and creative vision have [propelled] the label into the spotlight once again.“
Kristin Frossmo, EVP and GMM of Nordstrom’s shoe division, said the team was eager to see Morelli’s immediate impact. “It’s exciting, unique and will speak to our current Weitzman consumer, while attracting a more modern one,” Frossmo said. “The newness in materials and details feels fresh.”