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Q&A: Alexis Bittar on Childhood Antiquing, Taxidermy, and the Difficulties of Working With Lucite

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With all the recent curiosity about Alexis Bittar and his menagerie of stuffed animals, we wanted to sit down with him and pick his brain about his street-style roots, global aspirations, high-end collaborations? not to mention those cute stuffed taxidermy animals.

Racked: We love that little gaswanzebra [gazelle/swan/zebra] in the store window. Have you named him yet?

Alexis: Oh, No, I haven't named him yet. He is cute though. You know we do these hybrids from Frank Zitz- you should see the the one in San Francisco. That's a good one.

Alexis: Do you collect a lot of Frank's work for yourself?
Not for myself, we've been using taxidermy in the stores as a display for five years and it has garnered a lot of attention.

Racked: Your parents' passions are antiques right?

Alexis: Yes, well, they're professors. Both of them have their doctorate in history, they were twenty-one when they got married and they've been together for about forty-eight years. They had two kids and were actually still in school when they had us. So to subsidize their income, they bought and resold antiques. I was from Brooklyn, my parents had little money so my dad would take me to Bed Stuy where we would find old turn of the century stained glass in these abandoned buildings and then resell them along with other turn of the century or Victorian objects. As we were looking at things he would tell me why he would be drawn to them, so he was basically teaching me history and the importance of the pieces he was picking.

Racked: Do you think that being around and growing with your parents' collection made you embrace European influenced aesthetics?

Alexis: Yeah, its never been said about deriving from a European aesthetic, I think the knowledge of antiques helped without a doubt what I'm doing right now because I'm still obsessed with and I'm still buying and selling antiques. I love the craftsmanship and skill so I think my father opening up in such a tangible was helpful to my aesthetic.

My parents live in a water tower now, they bought in Westchester for $300 when I was three and hauled it up to Maine. They chainsawed the windows and uh, turned it into a house and now they live in it. I think growing up with my parents- they definitely thought outside of the box, were somewhat comfortable being outside of the box. They gave me the ability to be creative even though they were also very conservative. There's a weird juxtaposition with my parents.

Racked: You're always traveling to someplace exotic. What parts of the world have you recently found yourself when you're buying antiques or curiosities for your stores?

Alexis: I generally hit the usuals, the first is The Showplace and The Garage in New York, because I sold antiques when I was thirteen to twenty-six years old so I have a really good net of dealers that know me and I've grown up with them and then I go to London and Paris but I kinda go wherever I am. I basically try to stop into antique stores. A few of my favorites are The Pier Show and The Armory, there's the Atlanta Show which is once a month and Clignancourt in Paris.

Racked: You've collaborated with a ton of brilliant people and institutions- jewelry and furniture. Which one of your collabs do you feel has been the most inspirational or effective for your audience?

Alexis: Well the most effective one is Michael Kors- if we're talking about reaching customers. But a super exciting one was Burberry because I was young and it was the first one I had done. It was about 12 years ago and of course I knew about Burberry but I didn't know Rose Marie Bravo and I only had about 20 employees at the time so it was an exciting thing to take on such a conservative company. It started out almost as a joke- I made this techno colored Burberry plaid [for his own line] and it was pulled after a week because it became a copyright infringement. All this was around the same time that Miguel Adrover took the Burberry trench coat, turned it inside out, and reconstructed it. But before I knew it I was sitting in front of Rose Marie Bravo and they were like, we'll just make it Burberry's then.

Racked: Are you working on any collaborations now?

Alexis: I just finished Jason Wu, and now we're working on our own spring, but we haven't started working with anyone for next collection yet. I am working and completed designing jewelry for a movie, which I can't really tell you about yet but its American and it'll be a huge deal. Other than that, Iris Apfel- who I adore- we were talking about doing pieces for a Lighthouse charity she's involved with.

Racked: We think Lucite is one of the best things in the world. Obviously it has many strengths as a medium, what are some of the drawbacks to working with Lucite? What do you wish it was that it is not or can never be?

Alexis: There are two things I struggle with working with it as a medium for twenty years now. One is the depth its hard to control the sense of depth when you're carving it and we gild it so it reflects the light but sometimes you don't want it to look so soft. You want it to visibly look like it has more of an exterior surface when it doesn't. The other is that I can make it look fluid but its really just a dense substance that you have to carve and work hard to manipulate.

Racked: Any other stores on the horizon?

Alexis: Definitely London, probably Houston and Atlanta, and maybe Miami. We'll see.
· Alexis Bittar [Official Site]
· All Alexis Bittar Coverage [Racked Chicago]

Alexis Bittar

1710 N Damen Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60647 Visit Website

Alexis Bittar

1710 N Damen, Chicago Il