Stuart Weitzman's first Hong Kong store gets the Zaha Hadid treatment
Stuart Weitzman' series of stores designed by Zaha Hadid marks further global expansion of the brand
Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid's long list of radical futuristic buildings around the world includes Guangzhou's boulder-shaped opera house, the London Aquatics Centre and Rome's Maxxi art museum.
Her schemes are vast and extraordinary, so it is not often you find her name aligned to small-scale projects that feature in someone else's building. So Stuart Weitzman pulled off quite a coup when, inspired to do something different for his shoe store in the IFC, he secured Hadid to design the interior.
"Choosing her wasn't a problem, it was convincing her," Weitzman says. The architect is fond of fashion and her shoes, and "that was our edge I think, most women love shoes".
Working in his favour during their negotiations was the fact that Hadid also designs some innovative furniture schemes, some of which have been adapted for the new shop. These echo the lines of her famous prototype liquid glacial table.
The IFC store, which opened last week, is the second of six that Zaha Hadid will create for the brand around the world. The first was on the Via Sant'Andrea in Milan, and others will include New York, Rome and London.
Weitzman has been designing shoes for more than 35 years and has stores all over the world. His shoes have been selling in China for 10 years (his shop in Beijing's Shin Kong Place has the highest volume of sales of any of his outlets) and he entered Hong Kong through Lane Crawford. His biggest selling design, the 5050 boots, have sold one million pairs in 20 years.
Actress Angelina Jolie told him she couldn't wear any other boot because the part leather, part stretch fabric meant they hugged her slender calves. He is also the man behind the most expensive shoes ever created, worth US$1 million, and worn by Regina King to the Oscars in 2005. They were decorated with the diamond earrings John F. Kennedy gave to Marilyn Monroe, and were later auctioned.
The new Stuart Weitzman store features the curving fluid lines for which Hadid is renowned. His new collection includes Greek sandals, pretty flower print high heels, natural python gladiators and what he describes as black goose bump (textured) evening sandals.
There are brogues, because "the mannish look continues", he says, and lots of ankle boots "because the customer is telling us it is the item they love more than anything else". Bearing in mind our humid climate, the styles are mostly peep-toe and in lovely lacy laser-cut patterns.
All the more attractive are Weitzman's prices: HK$4,600 for the ankle boots, from HK$3,500 for the flat sandals, and HK$3,900 for the pumps.
Some companies have been accused of raising prices to make them appear more luxurious. Weitzman dismisses this.
"I don't think pushing up prices creates luxury. Pushing quality and design can get you closer into the luxury world. We are referred to as entry-point luxury, but I treat the company as though we are the top price, which is why we have a store designed by Zaha Hadid and a campaign with Kate Moss."
His shrewd pricing policy is a result of the vertical production he has run for 35 years in Elda, near Alicante, in Spain, where he is regarded as a local hero. Spain's unemployment (at the time of interview) was 26 per cent, but Elda's was 12 per cent.
There is, he says, a lot of grey hair in his factories, but that demonstrates the huge experience of his workforce. He has a policy of drawing the younger generation into his fold to learn from these skilled veterans. "Remember we are not making things by machine, this is all handwork, so experience is critical," he says.
Weitzman was an apprentice many years ago, learning the business from his father, a footwear designer and manufacturer on Long Island. "I think of myself as a shoe engineer more than anything else," he says. "Shoe designing is easy, but making it is a whole other story."
He spends a lot of his time working in the pattern room at the factory on the designs, creating prototype heels by carving into something called ivory soap. The soap needs to be softened by water and so he finds the most therapeutic place to work on them is in his bathtub.
"I hear my wife complaining, 'When are you getting out of the bathtub?' and asking, 'Are you making a heel again?'"
It might seem a strange place to start the design of a shoe, but if their success buys the services of one of the world's top architects, then why not?