News & Runway

Designer Dossier: Alexis Bittar

Credit: Joseph Marzullo/

Credit: Joseph Marzullo/

Alexis Bittar's story reads like a rags to riches tale, replete with a resuscitation from the brink of heavy drug use during the New York city heyday of 80s clubbing. Born to parents who were professors (who dealt antiques on the side to supplement their income) in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Alexis began his career as a merchant at the tender age of 10, selling flowers from a hand painted cart in his neighborhood. At age 15, he was gifted $300 worth of antique jewelry for a birthday present and promptly sold it on St. Mark's in the village to buy more wares to sell. You could say selling was in his blood, and in fact, part of his success is due to his innate skill creating inclusive campaigns that speak directly to his customers.

But what about his designs? If you haven't yet heard of the jewelry creator, you've likely seen one of his pieces on the cover of a magazine, worn by celebrities or pinned to one of Michelle Obama's enviable looks. Today, Bittar is the head of a multimillion dollar corporation that spans continents with boutiques and an online store. But, of course, it wasn't always like this. In his teens he began using drugs and told The New York Times last year that he'd "do anything you put in front of me." Going on to say, "I nearly died a couple of times." He spent a year in college and dropped out, delving further into the drug and club scene. At one point, his father entered one of his haunts and physically dragged him away, telling him he was never to go again. The period following was dark. He became estranged from his parents entirely, in part due to their lack of acceptance of his being gay. He crashed in boyfriends' pads and hit rock bottom at only 19. He realized he needed to sober up, and began going to meetings that, at 43, he still attends.

Searching for a vocation, he thought he might be able to fashion jewelry from lucite. He began carving small earrings in his apartment from the material, selling them for $20 a pop on the streets in Soho. This is where rags turn to riches for Bittar. Though big department stores had agreed to carry his jewelry in the mid 90s and he'd designed furniture for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and Barneys New York, he considers his big break to be a deal he made with Burberry in 1998 that came from a legal bout with the huge fashion house. He had used the legacy Burberry plaid design on his popular lucite bangles. They got hold of him with a cease and desist order (at the time he didn't realize he was infringing) and then asked him to make the bangles for them to sell in their collection. The rest is fashion royal history. 

He understands the value in appealing to a wide variety of customers and most of his pieces are affordable enough for the working girl (provided she can save up an extra couple hundred dollars), though he creates high-end pieces for clientele that run in the thousands of dollars. He still works with lucite, creating jewelry that's as much part fantasy as it is trendy statement. Nowadays, he adds luxe materials like gold and precious stones and claims that on some level, all of his designs are a reference to the opulence of the 80s. He's also happily reunited with his parents who accept him for who he is, who he's become and, no doubt, are extremely proud. Check out some of his most current pieces available online and see why the CFDA awarded him the Accessories Designer of the Year Award in 2010.