It's not every day that some of the world's most famous soles pound the pavement of Downtown Haverhill. But last Thursday, there was so much talk about designer footwear, the scene could've easily been spliced into the newest Sex and the City movie.
World-renowned shoe designer Stuart Weitzman was in town, wearing a slick pair of blue suede loafers with red stitching, to unveil the 6-foot-tall shoe he designed for the Soles of Haverhill event.
The red boot, covered in images of some of his family' most famous designs, is bedazzled with Swarovsky crystals. Some of the shoes featured in the design have graced the red carpet at the Oscars and are legendary for being worth over $1 million.
"I thank you for doing this and informing me about this," Weitzman said of the public art project. "This is truly one of the best contributions I've made in my life."
Weitzman designed the oversized Haverhill shoe with his daughter, Rachel, and wife, Jane. The vision was then carried out by Bradford artist Elizabeth Persing.
"Elizabeth executed it, and might I add, executed it fabulously well," Weitzman said of the artist.
Unlike the other shoes in the celebration that are prominently displayed throughout the city, the glitzy Weitzman shoe will remain indoors at the Hamel Mill Lofts building at 40 Locke St.
Hamel Mill Lofts, a former shoe factory being converted into luxury apartments, was not far from 151 Essex St., the address where Weitzman says he truly learned the art of shoe making. He got his start in the business at his father's shoe factory, Mr. Seymour's Shoes, on Essex Street in Haverhill. At the time, his father rented four floors of the building for $177 a month.
"That was my university," said Weitzman, who also studied at what is considered one of the world's best business schools, the Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania. "I loved it there," he said of the Haverhill shoe factory.
He got a few minutes to visit the site of his father's factory while in town, a brief moment that moved Weitzman greatly.
"You probably would've seen a tear roll down my cheek," he said.
Weitzman was thrilled to be back where his career started. He spoke excitedly about Haverhill and the people in the community, his hands unable to keep still. His voice carried so well, no microphone was needed.
"Is there anything warmer than coming back to your roots?" he asked the crowd of about 40.
Although he began humbly in a Haverhill shoe factory, Weitzman is now a household name to those who worship world-class walking wear. His shoes are sold in 42 countries, made at his factory in Spain and can fetch well over $100 a pair.
Many people in the audience that evening also had a history in the Haverhill shoe industry. Weitzman asked anyone with ties to the businesses that made Haverhill the Queen Slipper City to identify themselves. Several hands raised to the sky, including the hand of Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Haverhill School Committee.
Bevilacqua worked in Weitzman's father's factory one summer almost 40 years ago. In a sweltering factory, filled with glue chemicals, steam and the sound of machines pounding, Bevilacqua and hundreds of other workers carefully crafted shoe after shoe.
"I learned the value of hard work and working with other people," Bevilacqua said. "Your role had to be excellent. Everyone relied on everyone else. I learned that people working together could do anything."
He added that the Soles of Haverhill art project was the perfect way to pay tribute to Haverhill's past.
"It's really an example of what built the Merrimack Valley, of what built Haverhill," Bevilacqua said.
Weitzman said Bevilacqua's grandfather was one of the major influences on his career, helping to teach him to design shoes that women would want to wear not only because they are beautiful, but because they are comfortable.
Massachusetts Cultural Council Director Anita Walker spoke at the unveiling ceremony as well, sporting salmon pink peep toe heels. The Haverhill Cultural Council was able to support the Soles of Haverhill project thanks to money delegated from the Massachusetts office.
Walker was ecstatic at how beautifully the public art venture turned out.
"You're really harnessing what is real and special in this community," she said.
Walker then went on to thank Weitzman for his contribution to the project and for his contribution to her closet.
"I think you're a shoe artist," she gushed. "My personal motto is 'if the shoe fits, buy it.' I truly thank you personally."