By and  on May 31, 1994

NEW YORK -- Sometimes it is the lure of a big-name designer. Other times, the unique or cutting-edge styling. Most times, however, women get hooked on salon, designer and bridge footwear lines that offer one thing season after season, year after year. Consistency. Consistent fit. Consistent quality. Consistent styling. But not necessarily consistent prices. Devoted fans are willing to pay plenty for the privilege of slipping into the cream of footwear design, in many cases eagerly shelling out upwards of $200 for an especially coveted brand.

"There is a certain quality in these lines that is consistent every season," said Judith Gilliard, divisional merchandise manager for women's shoes at Barneys New York, referring to her store's top salon and designer lines. "If the quality is there and the look is right, in that it's very modern, we have no problem selling shoes that are $200 and up."

Of course, the air gets very thin as prices escalate. Still, there are some brands that have continued to top retailers' best-seller lists in the bridge, designer and salon categories for the last several seasons. Moreover, there are also a few -- not more than four, really -- that are perennial favorites with retailers, for their consistent sales performance, and with women, for their unmatched excellence in quality and fit. But, just as important, all these shoes have the distinction of bearing a high-powered label. The quality, fit and styling back up the name, which alone is sometimes enough to push a label to the top. At least for one season. This is particularly true if the store has already built a very successful ready-to-wear business with that designer. As Sherrie Oppenheim of Shirise in Glencoe, Ill., observed: "The people who buy designer shoes are really label-conscious. They won't look at anything that doesn't have a label. Name recognition is very important with designer shoes." Nevertheless, Oppenheim and other better-grade retailers agree that quality and fit are the hallmarks of a line that continually remains at the top. Here, a review of what retailers consider to be the premiere salon, designer and bridge lines in the country.

IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Manolo Blahnik
Niche: Salon/couture
Price Point: Upwards of $300Overall Critique: Unmatched for feminine, sexy shoes that maintain high standards of quality and fit. Retailers are always on the lookout for the "next Blahnik."

Comments: "Manolo Blahnik is really in his own league. He is number one for us. He is for the woman who wants a feminine, beautiful shoe. Women really become addicts (of his line)," noted Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, Dallas. "Blahnik is the top right now. He's very big everywhere. His fall shoes will retail around $600 and they'll sell," commented John Eichenberger of Mr. Jay, Millburn, N.J.

Niche: Designer
Price Point: $175 and up

Overall Critique: Considered the yardstick in both fit and quality by which all other lines are measured. A constant on retailers' best-seller lists.

Comments: "It is a pleasure to sell the line. You can look a customer in the eye and tell them they're paying for the quality," said Jeffrey Kalinsky of Bob Ellis Shoes, Atlanta.

"They have no peer. They are the best quality and fit product in the shoe industry," said Henry Webb, owner of Main & Taylor Shoe Salon, Columbia, S.C.

Stuart Weitzman
Niche: Bridge/designer
Price point: Averages $140-$200

Overall Critique: Among the most respected designers for his tenaciousness in developing the best-fitting lasts and for his worldwide grasp of materials and fabrications. Although a continual topper on most specialty stores' A-lists, retailers said Weitzman's line is gaining even greater momentum due to the current wave of femininity.

Comments: "Stuart is probably the best and most innovative designer out there because of his clever use of materials. (The line) is directional and understandable, which allows him to carry the high pricetag without a problem," explained Stacey Swan, buyer for Roy Smith Shoes, the Houston-based operator of the Accente specialty stores.

"He's the ultimate fit and style guy," said Henry Webb, owner of Main & Taylor Shoe Salon, Columbia, S.C.PERENNIAL PERFORMERS

Robert Clergerie
Niche
: Designer
Price Point: Upwards of $200

Overall Critique: The no-frills approach to styling coupled with an extremely durable, quality construction makes the line a continual crowd pleaser. Consistently sells.

Comments: "Whoever buys Clergerie won't buy anything else. These are longtime Clergerie customers. It's the name and the styling," said Elizabeth Fishman, buyer for The Shoe Box, Plainview, N.Y.

"His is a no-nonsense kind of shoe. It's for the woman who wants comfort and durability. His business is very consistent with us. It keeps growing," observed Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, Dallas.

Anne Klein
Niche
: Designer
Price Point: $145-$175

Overall Critique: Offers updated, but not-too-extreme fashion for the working woman. Recently got a shot in the arm when Richard Tyler took over as ready-to-wear designer. Priced right.

Comments: "It's fashion and good value," noted Janet Moran, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women's shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York. "Women can do a lot with (Anne Klein) shoes by dressing them up or down. (The) shoes aren't usually the type you only wear with one particular outfit," said Mark Wilson, women's shoe buyer, Stanley Korshak, Dallas. "I loved what I bought for fall. Richard Tyler's input is very apparent. When you have a really good ready-to-wear designer, you don't have to worry about whether the color of the suede shoes will match the apparel," noted Sherrie Oppenheim, owner, Shirise, Glencoe, Ill.

Bruno Magli
Niche: Designer
Price Point: Upwards of $175-$200

Overall Critique: A mainstay in many working women's closets because of quality and fit, but also because of the line's ability to offer updated styling with neither a way-out nor buttoned-up look.

Comments: "There's a consistency in the look of the shoes. Also, sizing is something that makes a very big hit with customers. The look is definitely more conservative, but not dumb. They've been able to update the look and keep with the trends," said Janet Moran, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women's shoes, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York.LA CREME DE COUTURE

Chanel
Niche: Salon/couture
Price Point: Upwards of $300

Overall Critique: Offers the classics along with wackier, cutting-edge styles that appeal to the younger set. The name is also key.

Comments: "We do exceptionally well with them. Their look is always changing. It's the novelty items that really sell," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus, Dallas.

Yves Saint Laurent
Niche:
Salon/couture
Price Point: Averages $150-$200

Overall Critique: Good quality shoes with a feminine bent that are not too extreme, but pass muster with even the ever-so-trendy set.

Comments: "Most of our clients buy YSL to wear with a specific outfit. They have interesting styles that aren't like everyone else. They fit well and have a nice, clean look," said Mark Wilson, women's shoe buyer at Stanley Korshak, Dallas.

Donna Karan
Niche: Designer
Price Point: Upwards of $200

Overall Critique: The designer name is the biggest draw of this line, thanks to Donna Karan's multi-million dollar marketing blitz. The collection, however, does offer some interesting styles that are sometimes unique for a particular season.

Comments: "It looks like (the line) took a total turnaround and it's blowing out now. It's marketing, the name. But, a lot of her shoes you just don't see anywhere else," said Elizabeth Fishman, buyer for The Shoe Box, Plainview, N.Y.

"They take five or six top styles and stock them. They do this in the bridge market, but not often in the designer market. (Being in-stock) is a very good thing," noted Sherrie Oppenheim, owner of Shirise, Glencoe, Ill.

Stephane Kelian
Niche
: Designer
Price Point: Upwards of $250

Overall Critique: Interesting shoes with a keen eye for wovens and materials. Offers very good quality for the price point.Comments: "Kelian's fabric oxfords and loafers with lug-bottom soles are big hits," said Judith Gilliard, divisional merchandise manager for women's shoes, Barneys New York, New York.

THE BEST OF BRIDGE

Anne Klein II
Niche: Bridge
Price Point: Averages $125-$140

Overall Critique: Offers the best value around in terms of product quality and fashion styling. Working women today consistently can't get enough of the line.

Comments: "It's a terrific bridge line for career women. They have terrific price points and great pumps," said Janet Moran, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women's shoes, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York.

DKNY Shoes
Niche: Bridge
Price Point: A range of $90-$200

Overall Critique: It's the name thing again as powerhouse Donna Karan pulls in another winner with this line. Answers the trendy needs of the twentysomething generation, and then some.

Comments: "DKNY definitely has name recognition. We have a very developed DKNY business storewide. The (shoe line) also offers a variety of looks from sneakers to career," said Janet Moran, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women's shoes, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York. "It would have to be number one (in the bridge area.) It's the name factor. I can't get enough of the shoes," commented Elizabeth Fishman, buyer for The Shoe Box, Plainview, N.Y.

Via Spiga
Niche: Bridge
Price Point: Upwards of $100-$125

Overall Critique: Yes, the line has had its problems. However, it still continues to perform at retail by offering European styling and good quality levels at decent prices.

Comments: "Via Spiga is popular because it's understandable fashion that is anything but boring. Most customers are looking for versatile and sexy shoes. They adapt their image to go forward with fashion trends," said Stacey Swan, buyer for Roy Smith Shoes, the Houston-based operator of Accente specialty stores.

"They consistently offer something that no one else has -- interpretations of current trends," noted Henry Webb, owner of Main & Taylor Shoe Salon, Columbia, S.C.Charles David
Niche
: Bridge
Price Point: Upwards of $125

Overall Critique: Successfully pinpoints the hottest styles at the couture/salon level and offers similar silhouettes for half the price.

Comments: "Charles David has a great fashion look and very reasonable prices. This line could be one of the new standbys, but they need to have a better stock position," maintained Stacey Swan, buyer for Roy Smith Shoes, the Houston-based operator of Accente specialty stores.

"They copy all the good shoes," Sherrie Oppenheim, owner of Shirise, Glencoe, Ill.

ONES TO WATCH

These are the lines that have not quite made it into the above categories -- for now. Rather, they offer a tempting glimpse of future triumphs and retailers are keeping their eye on these names, some old and some new, as the market moves into fall '94.

COUTURE/SALON
Christian Louboutin
Isaac Mizrahi

DESIGNER
Claudio Merazzi
Bernard Figueroa
Scott Rankins

BRIDGE
Petra

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