Sao Paolo's Couture Cobbler
by lauren finney
Alexandre Birman in his New York showroom
Alexandre Birman might be the hottest Brazilian export since Gisele. Birman, whose namesake high-fashion shoe line turns five this resort season, has been inducted into the CFDA, been named one of Footwear News’s Top 10 Designers to Watch, and counts mega-watt celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Katie Holmes, Blake Lively, and Anne Hathaway as devotees. He broke through to the American market after an episode of Gossip Girl in which Queen Bee Blair Waldorf proclaimed, “Alexandre Birmans are sacred.” “It was a work of God and totally accidental for us,” Birman says. “We never guessed they would use the brand name during the show.” It’s an incredible trajectory for a relatively young company, but this isn’t Birman’s first foray into footwear.
“My father created his [shoe] company when he was only 18 years old,” Birman says. “He started in my grandfather’s house garage, with only five people hand-crafting shoes. I was born and raised in a shoe factory. When I say that, people think it’s a kind of romantic expression, but it’s not. It’s the true story of my life. Even when I was a young boy, I was there [at the factory] during my vacation time mounting the shoeboxes. It’s a very fun thing to mount a shoebox!”
Onta sandal ($595)
As a teenager, Birman launched his own shoe line, Schutz, now a hugely successful brand in Latin America boasting more than 50 stores worldwide, including a one-year-old New York outpost. Following the success of Schutz in Brazil, Birman knew he wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream and create his own brand. The Alexandre Birman collection was realized in 2008, which he admits was not an easy time economically. “The challenges were very high,” he explains. “But I knew that could also be an opportunity because there was a lack of newness in the combination of fashion luxury and good pricing.” His instinct paid off. The Alexandre Birman brand is now sold internationally in more than 200 stores. “This is a great compliment for me, to have great results with the brand,” Birman says. “And every season that passes by, we are able to create a stronger DNA and a clearer signature.”
Those signature elements, which include nature, color, and sexy femininity, are represented in his Resort 2014 collection, sold at Neiman Marcus at Bal Harbour Shops. “[Birman] loves to work with color, and it’s something we love and do well with at Neiman Marcus,” says Ana Maria Pimentel, fashion director of women’s accessories for the Neiman Marcus Group. “His shoes are very whimsical and fun yet sexy, which our customer loves. Birman comes from a lineage of a cobblers and really loves fashion, and he really understands women.”
Inspired by Henri Rousseau’s The Dream, which depicts a woman lounging in her Parisian apartment while dreaming of the jungle, Birman’s Dream on Tropics resort collection is feminine and fanciful, yet practical. “The brand is a daily brand, not an evening or cocktail dress brand,” Birman asserts, a focus that fits the well-heeled women of Miami.
A sketch from the Resort 2014 collection
For Birman, Miami is a place rich with personal history. “The first time I visited was in 1984, and I don’t think I’ve skipped one year since without going to Florida,” he says. A champion swimmer as a child (and a current triathlete and marathon runner), Birman used to attend Olympic coach Jack Nelson’s swimming camp in Fort Lauderdale. He began visiting the Delano and the Mondrian hotels in his 20s, and now stays at The Setai Miami Beach with his wife, Johanna, several times a year, although “the nightlife is no longer in my schedule, unfortunately,” he says, smiling. “Before getting married, I was one of the first guys there when there was a new nightclub. I’m a South Beach guy.”
Knowing Miami like he does, Birman also knows Bal Harbour Shops well—and sees it as a key outlet for his brand. “Bal Harbour is the international destination in Florida, so it gives you great visibility to many different parts of the world, and that includes Brazil. In Brazil the brand is much more recognized, so when [Brazilians] see Alexandre Birman in those department stores, it creates a lot of value for the brand.” He also considers The Breakers Palm Beach and The Webster Miami two of his key points of sale nationally. “The Breakers is one of the most important doors we have,” he says. “And [Johanna and I] are big fans of The Webster. We buy there for ourselves as customers. We love to have our product there. It’s for sure one of the most unique shops in the world. You don’t find the kind of assortment at other places. We go to The Webster and stay for hours.”
His love affair with the city carries on, as he plans to return for a yet-to-be-announced Art Basel Miami Beach event. With his beautifully designed and hand-crafted shoes, and plenty more to be proud of in his international and thriving footwear empire, Alexandre Birman has even more to look forward to for his next five years of business. The Webster Miami, 1220 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-674-7899; Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-6161
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.