By  on July 23, 2012

NEW YORK — Designer shoe floors are getting crowded.The category is experiencing a shift, with a group of high-end brands — Charlotte Olympia, Nicholas Kirkwood, Tabitha Simmons and Alexandre Birman among them — gaining entrée into the sector’s retail space. While it’s less a changing of the guard — Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin remain perennial bestsellers — the above designers have edged their way into the minds (and closets) of trend-conscious consumers.

Department stores especially are placing a huge emphasis on the category, pumping capital into extensive renovations at their flagships. Barneys New York unveiled a revamped designer shoe department last week on its fifth floor and Saks Fifth Avenue did the same in 2007 on its eighth floor, with an additional expansion taking place last month. “People are seeking out extreme fashion from footwear selections, and it only helps the excitement factor when we’re selling shoes. The more that we’re able to bring these brands in and market them, the more they become a designer staple. We need them from a merchandise perspective to add newness but also from a business point of view,” Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Elizabeth Kanfer said. “Because the major brands can only get so big, we need to think of the next crop of staples in the store. The new guard becomes less emerging and more of a substantial part of our sales.” According to Kanfer, Kirkwood’s $995 black suede ruffle platform ankle booties are among fall’s early bestsellers — along with Blahnik’s suede ankle-strap pumps and Choo’s silver glitter smoking slippers.Last September, WWD reported that one of the fastest-selling designer shoe styles at the retailer’s flagship here were $1,540 suede fringe platform wedge booties in burgundy from Kirkwood’s fall 2011 collection. But this is not the case in every location, Kanfer explained. While Kirkwood’s elaborate designs might fly off the shelves in New York (it’s also a test ground for emerging brands), in the less urban stores and non-flagship locations the customer often doesn’t know who these designers are — something the retailer is keen on changing. “Our hope is in the next several years we can roll these brands [Kirkwood, Simmons and Brian Atwood] out to other locations. We hope these emerging brands become more established and we can offer them in more stores. It’s the direction we’re taking footwear,” Kanfer said, noting that the store has begun carrying Simmons fall collection on and will roll the line out in two doors, the New York flagship and Boston. Of this group, though, it’s Atwood who was the first to be accepted into the designer shoe circle. He launched his namesake line in 2001, and is now carried in the majority of the department store’s doors. “He’s out of the new guard and into the established emerging designer category,” Kanfer said.As for the “new guard,” one of the fastest-growing labels is two-year-old Aperlaï, a French brand designed by Alessandra Lanvin and known for its architectural, elegant silhouettes with unexpected details, such as hand-painted mirror or marble effects on velvet, lizard or suede. The line, which retails from about $600 to $1,000, was picked up by Saks upon its launch in 2010 for the spring 2011 season and is now available at nearly 60 doors worldwide, including Harvey Nichols, Luisa Via Roma, L’Eclaireur, Opening Ceremony Tokyo and Tsum in Moscow. Domestically, it’s currently sold at Saks, Scoop, Stanley Korshak, Fivestory and Fred Segal. According to Lanvin, married to Jeanne Lanvin’s grandson Hubert Lanvin, business has doubled in terms of doors since its first season and has increased three times in terms of sales volume. “It’s a very prolific period for shoe design. There are a lot of big talents outside that I love,” Lanvin said, listing fellow designers Simmons, Laurence Dacade and Gianvito Rossi as each having successfully developed a particular signature. Of her own signature, Lanvin points to the graphic heel introduced in her fall 2011 collection, an ode to Picasso’s cubism. The handmade heel is a lightweight, rectangular structure that the designer evolved for fall 2012. Lanvin will present spring 2013 next month, for which she has developed a new style that she coined the “Lady Cat” — an “intense tropical green” snakeskin and suede sandal with a curved “talon” hugging the ankle, adorned with five gold buttons resembling a spine.

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