The University of Pennsylvania is renaming its design school after Stuart Weitzman, the 1963 Wharton graduate who founded the iconic shoe company and fashion brand.
This name change reflects Weitzman’s ongoing contributions to the school, which have been in the form of time and money. His latest financial gift, whose amount is not being disclosed, will allow the design program to offer more financial aid to prospective students, said Frederick Steiner, the design school’s dean. The school’s plaza will also be redesigned and named after Weitzman.
Weitzman, 77, who is now retired and living in Connecticut, said he has donated money to Penn each year for about the last 40 years, but did not disclose the amount of his financial contributions. The design school’s budget relies on tuition, up to 66 percent for fiscal year 2018, and Steiner said Weitzman’s undisclosed contribution will give the school more flexibility. The Daily Pennsylvanian has reported on the challenges for the design school that come from being so dependent on tuition.
“It is something that will enable us into the future to attract really good students, and also they can graduate with less debt,” Steiner said. “Our fields are very competitive for the top student and other schools have been able to offer more resources, and we’re going to be able to compete better in that environment.”
Weitzman has often volunteered on campus as an educator, teaching a course on entrepreneurship open to all students regardless of major, and he estimated he is going into his sixth semester. Though the course is not for school credits, students learn about topics ranging from how to finance a new business to building a brand and hiring the “right team,” Weitzman said. Often, he said, he will meet with students individually as a mentor after class.
“I’m getting out of it as much as they are and that’s what brings me back,” Weitzman said, referring to the students he has worked with over the years. “I am amazed at what these 20-year-old kids are doing in their lives already.”
In 2015, his firm Stuart Weitzman LLC was sold for $530 million in cash to Coach. Weitzman stayed as the company’s creative director through May 2017 and is now chairman emeritus.
“We never dreamed that shoes could be sold on the internet, and we were wrong, and Zappos became the champions of that,” he said. “That created a big change. It changed the way we market, it changed our advertising. No longer were fashion magazines that important to us. Instagram became a vehicle as well and affected fashion.”
“The need to build a brand became essential. It was the only way a company could protect itself against Amazon.”
Weitzman said he could make a design on a screen and within an hour, color it “in a hundred ways, instead of what would take two weeks to make prototypes. ... Technology has probably brought the shoe-making industry into modern times.”
In his retirement, Weitzman is helping develop a museum on Spanish and Jewish history in Madrid, co-producing two Broadway plays, and teaching.
“I’m having as much fun doing this as dressing Julia Roberts,” he said, referencing the actresses’ choice of heels when she presented for Best Picture at Sunday’s Oscars.