Known for his exuberant use of exotic skins on sexy, sky-high silhouettes, footwear designer Alexandre Birman is quickly becoming the go-to designer for fashionistas and celebrities everywhere. The Brazilian-born designer is coming to Naples this month to kick-off Saks Fifth Avenue’s newly expanded 10022-SHOE department. We caught up with him and asked about his passion for fashion, love of the stylish women of Southwest Florida and his plans for the future.
You’ve been working in the footwear industry since you were 12. Did you ever consider doing anything else?
I always knew I wanted to create shoes, but at first I dabbled in men’s shoes. The first pair of shoes I’ve ever created were actually a pair of men’s loafers for my father. He loved them, and although they were brilliant, I slowly began falling in love with the creativity and artistic freedom of designing shoes for women.
Each pair of your shoes is handmade. How much craftsmanship goes into the process?
I walk through the factories daily to observe the process and ensure every pair of shoes is perfect. My production team is well-trained with Italian techniques, and since the south of Brazil is known for its shoe-making heritage, the dexterity comes almost naturally to the craftsmen (and women). Depending on the style and intricacy, I would say that on average it takes a full 24 hours to make one pair of shoes, sometimes more and sometimes less.
A sexy shoe in an exotic skin is a signature look of yours. What are your favorite materials right now? What inspires you?
Right now I am in love with mixing the wild with urban moda. The fall collection at Saks exemplifies that: Raw materials such as python, stingray and ostrich are mixed with leathers, wood and utilitarian personalities. It’s about integrating my Brazilian heritage with modern-day trends.
What’s been the greatest influence on your style?
My greatest influences come from traveling. In certain collections, I have grasped inspiration from women in St. Tropez: their dress, their attitude and their joie de vivre. Other collections have been inspired by the rustic nature of nomadic tribes from Mongolian territories—the braiding, the use of natural ropes and raffias, the elements of earth and sea.
What do you enjoy most about working with actresses? How has the exposure you’ve gained through them affected the brand?
It’s interesting to see these beautiful women on television or on the big screen, and the next day have a nice lunch with them and learn about the silly things their kids just did yesterday, or the busy schedule they have ahead of them. Celebrities really are normal people like you or me, although I must say their influence when wearing my shoes is an added bonus. Many shoes such as a general ballerina flat have flown off the shelves after someone like Kate Hudson or Anne Hathaway is photographed wearing them.
How would you describe the women who wear your designs?
The Alexandre Birman woman is sexy. I define the term sexy as confident and radiant. She knows her body, she is comfortable with it, and she loves to show her assets via a great pair of high heels. I’d like to think that women who wear my shoes are lively, love to socialize and surely have a knack for accessorizing their outfits with my one-of-a-kind creations, whether it be through vibrant colors or exotic materials.
What is it about Southwest Florida that inspires you? How would you characterize the style of your clients who live here?
Southwest Florida has an eclectic mix of beautiful women. I’m constantly inspired by the women I meet when traveling to places like Fort Myers and Naples. Women are cool and casual, always looking their best without trying. It’s not an easy task to look “effortlessly chic,” as I like to call it. I think that’s why my shoes do so well with Floridian women.
What was your inspiration for your current collection?
This collection has been inspired by roughness—bondage, natural predators, etc. You will see at Saks the various sandals with belts and buckles strapped together, as well as boots and pumps with rough textures including python, stingray (it’s my first time debuting the use of stingray). Many elements have also quite the large arithmetical inspiration, as you will see with the hand-stitched elements in many of my geometric-shaped sandals and booties. Cut-out squares, rectangles, etc. shine through in many of the styles.
Where do you see your label going in the future?
I’d love to eventually branch off into handbags and small leather goods, and be able to have them distributed worldwide.
WHERE TO BUY ALEXANDRE BIRMAN
Saks Fifth Avenue, Waterside Shops
5395 Tamiami Trail N., Naples;