Combine a zest for life, effervescent personality, the hunger for political knowledge and an old-school approach to handmade knit wears and fashion, and you’ve just scraped the surface that is the essence of designer Jamie Kreitman.
Most famously known for her stylish, comfortable and celebrity-worn line of funky and colorful flip flops, this Ditmas Park Brooklyn, N.Y. native’s passion wasn’t always just fashion.
“My passion was Arabic and Safardic Judaism, Middle Ages, Middle Eastern Philosophy and religion which is what I went to school for,” Kreitman said. She jumped from first year level Arabic language studies to a graduate level in one summer Kreitman said, revealing her thanks to Hebrew University’s
Kreitman received her Master’s from Columbia specializing in Hebrew, Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. But after coming to the realization during the 1980s that there “was no need” at all for someone with her educational background and passions, she fell back to a childhood love of fashion, especially sewing and handiwork such as embroidery, knitting and beadwork. Not many can say they asked for a sewing machine for their bat mitzvah, received one and used it frequently and with gusto.
After seeking advice from an adviser at Columbia, it was clear to Kreitman she should study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She earned the prestigious Critic’s Choice Award and after graduating she worked at Tahari for a short while before starting her own namesake line.
“The shoes are ancillary, I had been a knitwear designer since I got out of FIT and I created this company in 1991 from unemployment money,” Kreitman said. When she discussed the beginning of her business she said, “Our high-end sweaters are all produced domestically, and in the early 90s women worked and suit jackets and suits were in high demand. My team and I concentrated on great whimsical jackets in the style of Moschino and we garnered quite a market.”
However, despite being a supplement to Kreitman’s line of knit wears and accessories, her flip flops have adorned the feet of such names as Felicity Huffman, Paris Hilton, Vivica A. Fox and Emma Roberts. Most recently, a Conde Naste editor emailed Kreitman saying that Carrie Underwood wore her flip flops to an Allure cover shoot because they wanted to know all about the shoes that the star wouldn’t take off.
“It’s nice to know that these people are wearing them. Shandra Wilson loved our ballet shoes. And Marcia Gay Harden wore our ballet shoes after having her twins since she was running all over the place,” Kreitman said.
The shoes didn’t start off as a fashionista must-have. They were actually a gag birthday gift Kreitman designed for friend and mentor children’s designer, Ruth Hornbein. “She got stopped everywhere and in 2000 she said we have to do a line.”
For the designer however, it all comes back to her roots. “My favorite thing to design is knitted sweaters. My strength is actually in sitting down at a knitting machine and knitting my own fabrications and coming up with new design patterns, hands using textured yarn.” She said she realizes that she has to evolve to be more commercial, as any designer does. “My strength has always been the whimsical approach to knitwear that we called ‘tongue-in-chic’, basically clothes that make you smile and make you happy.”
There are many differences between Kreitman’s line and mission and other designers and brands out there.
“I know how to knit and sew, I’m not at a computer designing. I know how to do handwork, embroidery, and whatever other kind of hands-on crafting like beadwork and handstitching, whatever needs to get done. I can sit down to a sewing machine and I can sit down to a knitting machine and that’s why I feel the line is a little different.”
Additionally, Kreitman’s target audience isn’t the teeny-bopper set predisposed to wear whatever Lindsay Lohan is donning for the week.
“We would hope our target audience is the young fashionista but really it’s educated consumers with a fine eye for the sophisticated and cultured styles. People who have been exposed to travel, and Europe.”
She is a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Sex and the City” but a critic of “Project Runway’s” flamboyant drama.
“I am put to the test everyday, the same tests that they (the contestants) are put through on Project Runway. But you have to make it work on a production level, a manufacturing basis.”
As for kicking back in front of the television, she said that when she closes her doors at night she doesn’t want to watch a drama about her daily fashion grind. “I want to relax with legal and medical dramas.”
Kreitman said of her design team “We’re die hard fans (of Sex and the City). We mourned the day it went off the air. It was so inspirational from a fashion point of view, and now people aren’t too excited about fashion.”
Kreitman realizes designing is a tough business and that not many people can last and evolve and grow with the times. She said she feels that you have to be well read, well educated and have a good grasp on the world around you to make it in the business.
“Fashion isn’t a vacuum, it’s happening in the world. It’s a product of our culture and it reflects culture.”
And while she isn’t in a business pertaining to her former passions of Middle Eastern language, cultures and studies, Kreitman’s love of fashion and passion for quality and handmade pieces that her line exemplifies shines through.
“You gotta real love what you do. And you have to know that most of it is nitty gritty but you have to have fun with it. If you don’t what’s the point?”
For the latest in Jamie Kreitman’s NY fashion line head to the designer’s Web site at http://www.jamiekreitman.com.