Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No One Makes Bangles Like Bittar

Alexis Bittar banglesThere is something beautifully fluid about Lucite jewelry in the hands of a designer, especially if it's the right one. And ever since he started peddling pieces on the streets of New York City, Alexis Bittar has proven to be the right one.

Bittar, who was born in Brooklyn to two university professors/part-time antique collectors, originally started selling something simpler. He sold flowers at the age of 10 and later upgraded his cart to antique jewelry at the age of 13.

For Bittar, there seemed to be excitement in selling direct. And the thrill of it took hold of him for several years, with street-side wares that ranged from flowers to antique jewelry to vintage clothing.

"[Selling flowers] was my parents' idea," Bittar is fond of saying. "They wanted my brother and I to learn the value of hard work mixed with creativity at such a young age."

And then something changed in 1990. Bittar, who was always influenced by the antique collectables he grew up around, started hand carving the least likely material — Lucite — making it into a modernized classic design by combining 1930s Art Deco and 1980s punk. The fusion of the two was an unpredictably bright idea, at least in New York City's SoHo neighborhood.

Lucite is bold, with almost every color imaginable.

Like the skinny bangles featured above, Bittar's work helped push fashion forward while maintaining a classic and timeless style. Every piece is hand carved and hand painted. And along with all of his attention to detail, the color palette he works with is always striking — wine, raspberry, gold, silver, dark aged, and muted pink (all with a near metallic finish).

The same smoothness and natural simplicity can be found in many of his designs, including tapered earrings, with 1.25-inch hoops. Like the bracelets, Bittar's designs add depth with a two-tone finish, one color inside and the other outside the hoop.

primrose earringsBut Lucite doesn't need to be confined to simple. Since being discovered by Dawn Mello, fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, Bittar's work has become increasingly more detailed.

For example, after sculpting the tiniest of details and applying the right lilac finish to primrose earrings, the jewelry is sometimes adorned with 18k gold or glass crystals. And since every design is hand made, with some pieces requiring seven phases, it is very unlikely that a single set will ever match another exactly.

Bittar begins his climb from a street vendor to a jewelry artist.

As Bittar become more well known, his love for the arts beyond the club scene became even more apparent. He has a long-standing relationship with the Museum of Modern Art. And today, he frequently promotes various artists and designers when their work is being shown in the city he loves (most recently, Alexander McQueen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

For the last two years, despite the struggles of other retailers, Bittar has been opening outlets across North America. Last year, he opened boutiques in West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Venice. This year, he opened in Chicago. All of the boutiques are doing well, no doubt in part to designing striking but affordable accessories.

Bittar, who describes himself as having super ADD, has two additional lines that he jumps back and forth from all the time. Lucite is easily his best known, but he also enjoys working with other materials and experimenting with design on a grander scale. In addition to his Lucite line, Bittar created Miss Havisham, which carries a richer sculptural style. And the third is Elements, which has a free-sprited Bohemian feel.

Lucite By Alexis Bittar Remains Vibrant At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's not always easy for women to find everyday jewelry that doesn't look cheap. And this is where Bittar really makes a mark. Instead of designing jewelry for mass production or pricing it out of reach, there is a personal touch to each and every piece.

Although the work out of the Alexis Bittar boutiques has caught the eye of several celebrities and it's not uncommon to see his work on various fashion magazine covers, Bittar and his team of about 160 craftspeople have managed to keep it real. And for me, seeing his work spread across Los Angeles since opening a boutique in West Hollywood has been interesting.

You can find select pieces by the Alexis Bittar Collection. Those featured in this review range from $70 (bangles) to $275 (primrose earrings). Charm & Chain carries about 40 pieces at any given time. Some items are deeply discounted, like this ruby dust Lucite bracelet.
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