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Thinking Outside of the Shoebox: Stuart Weitzman shares lessons in life, business and design

Weitzman speaks to audience (Lakshmi Mulgund | Student Life)

Stuart Weitzman, luxury shoe designer and owner of the Stuart Weitzman company, delivered a lecture on his brand’s history, including his most successful advertising campaigns and the business truisms that have led the company to where it is today. About 80 students and faculty attended the event, which was hosted by the Business of the Arts Club in Kemp Auditorium, Feb. 9.Weitzman, who has designed red carpet footwear for celebrities including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, shared advice for students to succeed in business. 

Before founding his company in 1986, Weitzman designed shoes at his father’s company, Seymour Shoes, for several years. He advised students in the crowd to work for a company before starting a business of their own.  

Weitzman said working for Seymour Shoes allowed him to establish relationships with top retailers, leather suppliers, and shoe manufacturers that he used later on when he started Stuart Weitzman. He also said that designing for Seymour Shoes helped him avoid business mistakes down the line. 

“We made mistakes in the company,” Weitzman said. “And you know what? It didn’t cost me a nickel because it was all their mistakes and their money. But I learned from the company and never made those mistakes again.”

Weitzman also discussed his design process. He said he doesn’t take inspiration from other designers, but instead finds his influences outside of the luxury shoe industry.

“The greatest ideas in fashion don’t come from the runway, they come from the street,” Weitzman said.

Weitzman also said that original ideas in fashion are more valuable than copied designs. He described a photo of a woman from the Academy Awards posted on social media with a caption that said she was wearing Stuart Weitzman sandals. 

The sandals were not actually Stuart Weitzman; they were a Calvin Klein dupe of Stuart Weitzman’s “Nudist” heel. 

“It wasn’t my sandal, it was his copy of my sandal,” Weitzman said. “But once it reaches that level of recognition, it becomes yours.”

First-year Seth Skyles said he found the fact that the shoes were attributed to Weitzman fascinating because of his interest in intellectual property. He similarly appreciated Weitzman’s commentary on design inspiration.  

“I liked what he said about not taking inspiration from your competition, but taking inspiration from other places where you see success and growth and innovation and looking to see how you can implement that into what you’re doing,” Skyles said.

Weitzman brought three of his most famous shoes for randomly selected audience members to try on and model, including a red heel Cara DeLevingne wore to the 2023 Oscars, a Swarovski diamond-covered “Nudist” heel Taylor Swift wore to Jack Antonoff’s wedding, and the most expensive shoe ever made: a pair of heels covered in 464 diamonds.

First-year Margot Kades was an audience member who was randomly chosen to model the Taylor Swift Nudists. She walked along the perimeter of Kemp Auditorium while audience members took photos. 

“I loved getting to do a little model strut around,” she said. “They were such pretty shoes, I’m kind of sad I didn’t get to take them back with me.”

Weitzman also talked about some of his most successful advertising campaigns, including a nude photo of supermodels Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, and Lily Aldridge that was inspired by the Antonio Canova sculpture “The Three Graces.” 

He said that three car accidents happened in front of the billboard advertisement in Times Square within eight days of the photo being displayed, and his lawyer advised him to take the billboard down to avoid a lawsuit. 

The Times Square billboard was taken down, but the advertisement continued to run in fashion magazines and on other billboards across the U.S. and internationally. 

“The editors loved it because the inspiration was a work of art,” he said. “If it hadn’t been a work of art, there might’ve been 50/50 animosity towards it, but they loved it.”

He also emphasized the importance of community outreach in business and talked about a scholarship contest he held for high school students where contestants had to design a shoe loosely inspired by a socially conscious theme. Weitzman said the contest wound up having two winners. 

One of the winning designs was by a student from Iraq whose parents immigrated to the U.S. when she was three to ensure she would receive an education. The shoe had a stack of books for the heel, the words “education for all” etched into the heel, and tears of newspaper wrapped around the straps that she might have never learned to read if she’d remained in Iraq.

The second design that won was by a 15-year-old girl from Angola, who created a sandal centering on the history of enslavement. She included ropes and chains to wrap around the foot, and black diamonds dangling from a poplar tree that jutted out from the heel, an allusion to Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” where the poplar tree is the site of lynchings. 

Weitzman said that both women used their scholarship to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC) and that the winner from Angola is now the lead luxury designer at Calvin Klein. 

He said he led another campaign that raised enough money to build schools in Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos, and he said he hoped students in the audience would do similar things with their future businesses to make a positive impact in their community.

“I hope you can get into some things that copy this idea,” he said. “Just the things that make the rest of your community feel fabulous.”

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