Stuart Weitzman, an icon for red carpet footwear, arrived on stage dressed casually in a mock turtleneck, slacks, and 2 1/2–inch metallic platform sneakers. His charming stories of famous singers, actors, and models won over a crowded Great Hall on a wet October 16 evening. “Stuart Weitzman: The Road Less Traveled” was presented by the School of Art and Design and the Presidential Scholars Program.
“‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— /I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.’ That has led me to where I am,” he opened, quoting the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” He shared lessons he learned, pitfalls he wished he’d avoided, and truisms—or “Stu-isms,” as he called them—that built his brand and expanded his stores to over 70 countries across the world.
“Risk is not a four-letter word, not for designers. Risk, for you, is a friend. Embrace it,” he advised. He displayed a photo of a beaming Aretha Franklin with an award in one hand and a pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes in the other. It was the 1983 American Music Awards and with Franklin’s televised endorsement, Weitzman reached 24 million viewers. He took another creative approach to get a pair of his sandals on Jennifer Aniston. She only shopped at Scoop, so he made an exclusive pair for the (now defunct) boutique. Later, he landed celebrities Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, Selena Gomez, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift, among many others.
Another Stu-ism: “The essence of design is function. Make sure you study the concept of marketing and your design is timeless.” He asked for a model from the audience and watched as she gracefully cat-walked in a pair of 4-inch heels, one of his classic Nudist shoes, with cool ease. His reputation for comfortable wedges, he said, has made him a favorite among women in the British royal family, especially Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. Next he asked for a volunteer to model his infamous “million-dollar shoe,” a pair of silver sandals adorned with 464 diamonds, and numerous hands in the audience shot up in the air. One lucky student got to put them on.
Weitzman closed with his fifth and final Stu-ism, “I couldn’t do it alone, and you can’t do it alone. Hire nice people—people who can communicate and also hire [other] nice people.”