Alexis Bittar Takes San Francisco! Talks Taxidermy, Fave S.F. Spots, And His Upcoming Fine Jewerly Line

Photo: Kristen Philipkoski
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Bauble god Alexis Bittar stopped through S.F. this weekend, hosting a select group of fans and editors at his Fillmore Street boutique to show off his fall 2011 collection. In addition to presenting his drop-dead-gorge jewels, the designer also walked guests through his company's history, from those modest days of selling vintage jewelry on the street in New York to his major successes, like booking Lauren Hutton in an ad campaign and designing Madonna's jewels for her upcoming film about the Duchess of Windsor. After running our hands along all the hand-carved lucite goodies, metal "ballerina" cuffs, and necklaces with comical "Reality TV Makes Me Sad" pendants, we caught up with the designer to talk S.F., taxidermy, Iris Apfel, and his upcoming fine jewelry line.
What do you love about San Francisco?
"I come to San Francisco two to three times per year. I'm old school! So, I love the Golden Gate Bridge. I love Gump's. It has a similar aesthetic to Takashimaya, which I Iove. I just bought a bunch of stuff at Loro Piana. I'm like an old Italian man."
How did you choose this city as the location for one of your first stores?
"I've been coming out here since I was 26 and I've always loved it. Plus, I had a feeling of who the S.F. customer was, and it definitely was one of the highest-ranked cities for us. In terms of aesthetic, it's the closest city that reminds me of New York in some ways. San Francisco is much more laid-back, but in terms of an artistic sensibility, I feel like it has much more of an individual take. And the roots of it are really, really interesting—from the old Chinatown, to just all of it. It was a good fit because I feel kind of quirky and indie and I feel like San Francisco has that, too. Also, I have a good friend out here so I can come see her!"
You've got taxidermy all over your S.F. shop. What's the fascination there?
"I walked into a store about five years ago and saw a bear. I thought that was a really cool display, and the crazy thing was, women walked in and didn't even see the bear—they went right for the cases. I like the contrast of having such a feminine store and then having something kind of fucked up. And as years moved on, we're getting really creepy and making hybrid taxidermy with Frank Zitz. He'll do like a half swan, half gazelle."
You've used Joan Collins and Lauren Hutton in recent campaigns. Why did you decide upon these more mature ladies?
"Joan Collins was the first celebrity we used after about five years of using models. We used Snejana Onopka in what I think was her second-ever shoot and I used another girl—Daiane Conterato—in what's still one of my favorite ads. She's got a really unique face and she's not the typical pretty girl. Enough with the perfect! I generally like androgynous models like Stella Tennant. And Joan was interesting because the public awareness of the campaign was so fast and dramatic. Bloggers in China were all over it immediately. It had an amazing impact."
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Do you think you will continue using older models?
"It's tricky. I'm smart enough to know not to typecast myself. But actually, for the next campaign we had four people on the list; three were younger and one was a little bit more mature. And I think we're going to go with the more mature one!"
Do you have any big fashion week plans?
"I'm doing a collaboration with Iris Apfel and hosing an event with Vogue on Madison Avenue. Vogue's really on top of it, they want you to keep one-upping in terms of doing something new and exciting for Fashion's Night Out. And I think we're going to do something here, too."
Do you think you'll collaborate with Jason Wu once again?
"Not this season. I'm actually working on a fine jewelry line, so I wanted to take a little bit of a break. Our jewelry will probably be in a few shows, but no collaborations. We'll be launching the new line in the beginning of next year. I had put it on hold when the recession hit because that market just tanked. But I've been wanting to do it for like a year and I feel like we're seeing confidence come back."
Can't get enough Bittar? Check out our tour of his bachelor pad in Brooklyn!
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