Designer Stuart Weitzman talks shoes and ping pong in Tel Aviv

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Stuart Weitzman admits he doesn’t come to Israel for the shoes.

“It’s very casual, it’s always sandals. I don’t come here to inspect Israeli shoe fashion. Most shoes are imported here anyway; they are not made here”, explains the famous shoe designer.

“I come for the country, the people, that I love. The whole country means something to me.

Nevertheless, during his lecture at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in conjunction with the Jewelry and Fashion Department of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design last week, there were – for Israel at least – some pretty fancy shoes worn around the auditorium. Sparkly silver open toe sandals, neon pink sneakers and interesting strappy espadrilles.

Given Weitzman’s status, it was no surprise that his audience of designers and fashion students made an effort with their shoes, even though, as Weitzman correctly surmised in his talk, most of them they were apartments.

Israelis may want to look good, but they also like their comfort.

The highest heels in Weitzman’s lecture were those he had brought himself: two of his most famous shoes, the Nudist and the Million-Dollar Sandal, which had been modeled by two women in the audience.

Weitzman, who lives in the United States, was in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, for which he launched a $5 million scholarship fund with Maccabi USA.

Not only was he the American flag bearer at the opening ceremony on July 14, but he is also in competition.

This is his fourth Maccabiah Games to play table tennis, and believe it or not, at 82 he is not the oldest athlete in the games. This distinction goes to Yosef Shachmon, who is 90 years old and plays tennis.

“The games are like a giant party,” says Weitzman. “There are people from 60 countries, 10,000 Jewish kids competing against each other, and they’ve known each other for years.”

He tells how, during the opening ceremony, he saw competitors from different countries swapping their pants. “It’s so cute,” he said. “It’s such a friendship.”

Go off the beaten track

Stuart Weitzman and Israeli fashion student Keren Grinfeld in Tel Aviv. Photo by Nicky Blackburn.

Weitzman may be American, but he thinks and speaks like an Israeli, telling his highly receptive audience to think outside the box, use their imaginations and find inspiration from unexpected sources.

“Look at what cool women are wearing on the street and get inspired,” he says.

Weitzman was born on Long Island in 1941. In the 1950s, his father, Seymour Weitzman, and older brother, Warren, opened a shoe factory in Massachusetts. But Stuart had other plans. He was considering a career on Wall Street.

In 1963, however, Weitzman graduated from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and decided to try sketching shoe designs to see how he liked it.

Designs took off, and when their father died in 1965, Stuart and Warren began running the business, with Stuart designing the shoes.

In 1971, Weitzman partnered with a Spanish shoe factory, Caressa. Fifteen years later, he bought all the shares and became independent.

To enter the world of high-end footwear without too much funding, Weitzman developed a guerrilla marketing approach, long before the concept was even invented.

To show creativity

Unable to afford the best models, he advertised creatively. His first ad featured a pumpkin, and another, which won an award, featured a Dalmatian with black shoe-like spots.

He also began offering unique and whimsical designs to Oscar nominees at red carpet events. One was the Million-Dollar Sandal, adorned with 464 diamonds, worn by Laura Harring at the 2002 awards show.

In the years since, her shoes have been worn by Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston, as well as Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Megan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

Weitzman uses unique materials such as cork, vinyl, wallpaper and 24 carat gold. Although the shoes are often high-heeled, its focus is always functionality and comfort.

At its peak, Weitzman owned 120 private boutiques and sold worldwide. To this day, the shoes are still made in Spain, allowing the company to keep prices 30-50% lower than comparable brands.

Weitzman also urged his audience to give back. He has a philanthropic foundation in Spain and is a board member of the Hispanojudía Foundation, which aims to build bridges between Latin America and Israel.

Nudist pumps

In 2015, Weitzman sold his business to Coach for $574 million. Two years later, he resigned and appointed Giovanni Morelli as creative director.

One of the company’s biggest signature brands remains the Nudist, which Weitzman designed all those years ago: stilettos with thin straps and often ridiculously high heels.

They can still be spotted all over red carpets, and although other designers are now doing the same, the style is so synonymous with the Stuart Weitzman brand that Weitzman admits publications often credit the company even when they don’t. are not his.

After the conference, I find Keren Grinfeld, an Israeli fashion designer studying at Bezalel who modeled the Nudist sandals on stage.

We mingle outside the venue, and Weitzman — with seemingly endless energy — poses brilliantly for selfies with anyone who wants them.

Grinfeld still has the shoes and seems reluctant to take them off.

Keren Grinfeld models Stuart Weitzman’s nudist heels at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Will she take them off? Photo by Nicky Blackburn.

Are they comfortable?

“Well, those are high heels,” she said. “But they are comfortable.”

“What did you think of Stuart’s speech?”

“It was so inspiring,” she says. “I have my own fashion business and I was really wondering what to do. Should I be commercial or do what I love? Now I realize that I should do what I love.

Judging by the many designers and future designers waiting to speak to Weitzman after her speech, she wasn’t the only person to leave the Tel Aviv Museum with a whole new mindset.

Weitzman will compete at the Maccabiah on Wednesday July 20 against three sportsmen, Mark Freedman of Australia, Nahum Shamis of Israel and Abraham Tobal of Mexico.

This article was first published by Israel21c.

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