Even as a high school student, Alexis Bittar knew he wanted a career in fashion. He began by selling vintage clothing and jewelry on the street where I lived in the punk-centric East Village of NYC. (I am fairly sure I bought things from him.) Not satisfied with just selling vintage wares, Bittar new he wanted to be a designer. By the early 1990s, Bittar found his fashion language.
“When I was about 21 I took a technique I learned from selling antiques—it involved hand-carving an early plastic used during the Great Depression called Bakelite—and fused it with what René Lalique had done with glass, painting on the back of crystal and gilding it. I took these two ideas and kind of stumbled upon Lucite®, a material that is typically clear. I realized I could sculpt it into any shape and manipulate the way it reflects color and light. It’s a shape-shifting material—I can make it completely opaque and matte, or glowing and high-shine, or make it look like water, or multicolored, or patterned, or carve it into a face or whatever else I want. My technique comes out of the fusion of these two ideas, Bakelite carving combined with Lalique color work.”
30 years later, Bittar’s process and reputation may have evolved, but he has remained true to his vision. Perhaps best known for his hand-carved lucite bangles in delicious candy colors, Bittar’s pieces are instantly-recognizable and eminently wearable. In fact, they’re collected and worn by some of the great fashionistas of our time, including Michelle Obama, Iris Apfel, Christina Aguilera, and Billy Porter.
The heavily-tattooed artist may still have a punk vibe to him, but his jewelry is all casual class. I don’t think I’ve ever loved lucite more than it’s been elevated by Bittar. I really do need to get my hands on one (or five) of his bangles.