NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 07:  Designer Betsey Johnson and Victoria Justice attend the Accessories Council's 21st Annual celebration of the ACE awards at Cipriani 42nd Street  on August 7, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for ACE Awards)

The Accessories Council staged its 21st annual ACE Awards Monday night, where fashion designers and celebrities mingled in celebration of shoes, handbags, jewelry and eyewear.

Eva Longoria, Victoria Justice and Brooke Shields attended the event, held at Cipriani 42nd Street.

They cheered as Betsey Johnson, the evening’s Style Icon award winner, was saluted with a 75th birthday cake and when Monica Rich Kosann’s daughters, Danielle and Laura Kosann of The New Potato, presented their mother with the Trailblazer Award.

Between courses, designers and executives mulled changes within the accessories and fashion industries — particularly focusing on the topic of shoe design.

While sneakers have begun to decelerate in popularity — following a multiyear reign — designers recognize that women are conditioned to wear comfortable shoes, rather than towering heels.

“I think there is a sense that women want to feel unencumbered and walk freely and comfortably,” said ACE Designer of the Year winner Joseph Altuzarra, who paraded a small army of Imperial Russia-inspired looks, accompanied by combat boots for fall. “I think that, for me, the combat boot was such an excellent symbol of female strength and confidence. I do think that women want more fashion options that are not high-heel shoes,” he added of the design.

Neiman Marcus president and chief merchandising officer Jim Gold said of the state of women’s shoes: “There is no question that footwear has seen a big movement toward more comfortable shoes. We ask ourselves all of the time: ‘Now that women have become really used to comfortable footwear — are they going to go back to wearing higher heels?’”

“I think the eye will eventually shift — women still love a heel. I know they are painful, but the eye will shift and there will come a day when women will hoist themselves up again. But it’s about balance. The amount of creativity today in footwear certainly exceeds what we saw a few years ago — now women can build wardrobes of sneakers, loafers and flats. We used to have a hard time finding product to carry and now, the offering is phenomenal.”

Gold added that the breadth of handbags available today has also enriched the accessories category. “The innovation in handbags continues — the leaders get stronger and stronger. Handbags today — compared with what we used to be able to select from in the marketplace five years ago — is night and day. As long as the industry continues to operate in same way, good things will come.”

Global Brands Group North America president Jason Rabin — this year’s ACE Business Visionary Award winner — is enacting similar change in his own backyard. The executive has retooled GBG’s corporate culture to provoke innovation within his own employees. GBG has built a giant respite space at its headquarters where Millennial employees can work with few boundaries.

This September, GBG will kick off its LIO program — an acronym for leaders, innovators and opportunities. The initiative welcomes 10 new college graduates from across the country to create innovative concepts in GBG’s lab without bosses, supervision or guidelines.

“I felt that the industry is changing rapidly. I’m 47 years old — I feel old in this industry. The mentality today of the employee coming to work is different than it was 20 years ago. Millennials want to have an experience when they come to work. We’ve created an environment to attract the Millennials, so they can come in and be creative,” Rabin said. “I pride myself on not being a dinosaur and being ahead of the curve. I want them to want to work and not leave.”

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