Stuart Weitzman built up his father’s business into an empire. (photo by Phillip Pessar)
There are so many styles of women’s shoes, including the stiletto, platform, wedge, kitten, sling backs, peep toe, mule or sneakers. Unlike our favourite outfits, the fit of our shoes doesn’t change much in relation to our waistlines. A great pair of shoes can boost our confidence and turn a “shlumpy” outfit into something eye-catching. Marilyn Monroe declared, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world.”
Renowned designer Stuart Weitzman was born into a shoe business family. But, while his father had started a shoe company in Massachusetts in the 1950s, Weitzman’s goal was a career on Wall Street and he went to and graduated from the Wharton School. However, after his father died, he started to make the transition from talented hobbyist sketcher to acclaimed shoemaker. His strong work ethic coupled with an eye for style created the prevailing Weitzman empire. His designs flew off the shelves of upscale stores and filled pages of top fashion magazines.
In 1971, Weitzman partnered with a Spanish shoe factory, Caressa. In 1986, Weitzman bought all the shares from his Spanish partners and became independent. Success over the years led to Weitzman’s ownership of nine factories throughout Spain, which granted him the ability to keep his upscale shoe brand at a price 30% to 50% lower than that of his contemporaries. At his peak, Weitzman owned 120 private boutiques and sold globally in department stores.
Fifty years in the business has attracted a large following of shoe enthusiasts to Weitzman’s creations, including celebrities like Beyoncé, Kim Cattrall, Jennifer Aniston and Taylor Swift. In 2002, Weitzman fashioned a pair of million dollar shoes, almost literally dripping in diamonds, worn by actress Laura Harring to the Academy Awards. He also designed the most popular nude sandal worn among celebrities, which has become a classic and essential for many women.
Weitzman sold his company to Coach for an estimated $574 million in 2015. At the age of 76, he remains the creative director. It is now Weitzman’s wish to find a successor, as his two grown children, Rachel and Elizabeth, have chosen different routes.
Weitzman and his wife, Jane Gershon, worked together to build the business. Together, they also became philanthropists, donating to many causes, but also establishing the foundation Pencils of Promise, which focuses on opening schools in Ghana, Laos and Guatemala.
Weitzman and Gershon are passionate about their Jewish roots and work to ensure the future of Jewish communities and Jewish heritage. Consequently, a substantial amount of their contributions and time commitments revolve around Jewish institutes and causes around the world.
Weitzman, an avid ping-pong player, participated in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2009 and 2013. Also in 2013, he made a donation of $1 million to Maccabi USA. “My participation in the Maccabiah Games was one of the greatest experiences of my life!” he has said.
A man used to working 16-hour days in a creative environment doesn’t seem set on a quiet retirement. The list of projects he has planned is long. A top priority is constructing a Jewish museum in Madrid dedicated to Spanish Jewry. On the horizon is producing a Broadway musical with Sir Trevor Nunn about the life of Andy Warhol.
Just in case the wedding superstition is true, let us do as the bride is advised – whatever our footwear, let us remember to exit with our right foot first to ensure a lucky day.
Some shoe facts
- 40,000 years ago, it seems, people began wearing shoes
- the first women’s boot was made for Queen Victoria in 1840
- sneakers were first made in America in 1916
- heels were added to shoes in the Middle East to lift the shoe from the burning sand
- Marie Antoinette had 500 pairs of shoes
- the only shoe museum in North America is the Bata Shoe Museum, in Toronto
- gold and silver coins placed inside a bride’s wedding shoe is an old Swedish custom
- Chinese brides throw one of their red bridal shoes to the roof of their house to ensure the couple’s happiness
- Altocalciphilia is the name for having a high heel fetish
Ariella Stein is a fashion writer based in Israel.