From designer collaborations to off-the-chart runway pieces to affordable baubles that jazz up any ensemble in your closet, jewelry designer Alexis Bittar's pieces never disappoint. Also not a let down? How absolutely humble and charming Bittar was in person. I had the opportunity to chat with the bling king—amongst his stunning creations at the Saks Fifth Avenue store on the Mag Mile—where he opened up about everything from how being a new parent has changed his viewpoint on employee maternity leave to the must-have pieces of the holiday season. Trust, you're going to want to start dropping a few hints to your near and dear.
Since you were more interested in the underground club life and fashion than your studies as a youth, what advice would you give to today's young generation on following his/her entrepreneurial dreams versus going to or finishing college?
"I've spoken at colleges which is always such a weird thing because I never finished. I also did an event with Michelle Obama in terms of education and I said to her, 'are you sure you want me to be doing this because I actually dropped out!' But I think it depends on what field you're actually talking about because there are some really valid things that you can learn from going to school—but I also think that an internship is a great way to understand the ins and outs of a business. In some ways, I think an internship at multiple companies is some of the best education you can have. So, I think if you want to be hired, then most companies want to see that you went to school. But if you want to be an entrepreneur, then I think internship is the better way to go."
You and your partner recently had two babies come into your world; has this life change affected your creative process in any way?
It's too soon to say it affected my creative process. If anything, it opened my mind up in terms of the next stage of my life and also how amazing it is to see the evolution of these children and how quickly they are growing up. I think as an employer it's registered because I have a whole new appreciation for paternity/maternity leave. It occurred to me that it really is an interesting world we live in where you are expected to work so quickly after having children and there's more and more dialogue about it recently - especially in today's world where everyone is working not only in the office but outside on their phone. So it's really learning about shutting that off so that you can be present for your kids.
Very few designers make regular personal appearances in Chicago, yet you consistently make the rounds and come back for loyal customers for events. Why is this personal connection so important to you?
"Well, the Midwest—specifically Chicago—is truly one of the top cities in the world for sales in fashion. Also, I think that customers in Chicago are super-loyal. If they love a designer, then they really get behind them. For me, it's been an important way for me to understand what the customer really wants, and it always has been since the beginning of the business. Not only do I get to meet them and find out who they are and vice versa, but it also keeps me from staying too head in the clouds in the world of fashion, which I think can sometimes have a disconnect with the customer. Obviously I'm versed in editorial and work with a lot of designers, but there's generally a disconnect between what's shot in a magazine and what a woman will actually wear."
Since you're constantly evolving, where do you seek the inspiration behind your new collections and collaborations?
"It's very rarely just a single thought, but it can be occasionally—like the resort collection, for example. Last Christmas I was in Vienna and visited the Spanish Riding School, so the equestrian hardware triggered a thought about design. But generally I take different eras and compress them: a little Victorian, a little of the '80s, and a little of the future. It's usually like a bit of a quilt in terms of how I look at design to accomplish."
Since you're such a vintage and antique enthusiast, where are are some of your favorite places to seek out treasures?
"Brimfield, Massachusetts has a sale three times a year which is a mile long and is incredible. If you're an antique lover, you'll die and go to heaven. Atlanta also has a great antique market. Portobello Road in London still has some great jewelry going on, and Les Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris is still great."
What are a few of your key pieces that a woman could utilize all holiday season long as go-to accessories?
"I love a duster earring..a long duster is super-sexy. I also love the idea of wearing a bigger bib necklace that you can throw over a shirt versus bare skin so it's accessorized over fabric. I also love a good cocktail ring."
Pick up Bittar's picks and more at Saks Fifth Avenue.