Legendary Shoe Designer Stuart Weitzman Recounts Secrets of His Success During Campus Visit
When renowned designer and entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman launched his eponymous shoe company, he quickly realized he had to separate himself in an already saturated, cutthroat business.
“Here I am, a new guy on the block,” he says in front of a capacity crowd at the DEC Center Forum on March 26. “I never made a shoe before. What could I offer them that they didn’t already have three times over?”
After a detailed study of the industry, Weitzman noticed nobody offered custom-made shoes for celebrities—even the most expensive brands. This meant that sometimes a handful of women would be wearing the same shoe at a high-end event.
He decided to change the model and add a small factory inside his business that would create one-of-a-kind shoes. Weitzman’s big break came when music superstar Aretha Franklin agreed to wear his design at the 1983 American Music Awards, and showed them off in a now-famous photo and thanked Weitzman publicly for creating shoes that didn’t hurt her feet.
“You can’t buy that,” he tells the Jefferson fashion students, prospective students and faculty in attendance. “Thank god I have the picture or you would have thought I made it up.”
Stuart Weitzman received Jefferson’s 2018 Spirit of Design Award.
Weitzman’s business exploded from there. His iconic shoe designs, such as the Nudist sandal and 5050 boot, have been worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, Jennifer Aniston, Michelle Obama, Kourtney Kardashian and Taylor Swift, as well as by the merely fashionable in 75 countries.
Throughout the rest of his talk, Weitzman—who received Jefferson’s 2018 Spirit of Design Award—shared numerous stories from his illustrious career, including the inspiration behind his lighthearted “we’re a little obsessed with shoes” ad campaign, how supermodel Kate Moss became the face of his brand, and why he chose actress Laura Harring to wear his shocking “million-dollar shoe” at the 2002 Academy Awards. (In fact, Weitzman let a lucky student try on a version of the famous shoe, with swapped out Swarovski crystals instead of the 464 diamonds on the original.)
“That was the tipping point of our company,” he said of the press and international fame gained from the diamond-encrusted sandal.
Following his 90-minute lecture, students asked Weitzman questions on his design process and muses, as well as the importance of his team. The fashion icon then toured East Falls Campus, visiting a fashion design research class, the industrial design studio and the Fashion and Textiles Futures Center.
“You’re the ones who are going to run the world,” he tells the students.