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Men'sWeek issue 03/13/2014

PARIS — Men are having a Cinderella moment, propelling footwear to become one of the fastest-growing categories in an already buoyant market for men’s fashions. And retailers around the world are gearing up to take advantage of it.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Shoes are to men what bags are to women,” said Emmanuel de Bayser, owner of The Corner in Berlin. “Because bags don’t work in men’s wear, 90 percent of my budget for accessories goes into shoes, 80 percent of which are sneakers.”

Among the best-selling items de Bayser cited are sneakers from brands including Valentino, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin, for which there is a waiting list at his boutique. “What’s interesting is, the customer today knows exactly what he wants; it’s imperative that we keep up with his specific demands,” de Bayser said.

The retailer said his shoe budget doubled in the last three seasons, and he recently installed a “sneaker wall” in his men’s boutique, an element he borrowed from his women’s shop and “an instant hit.”

Most retailers polled by WWD cited double-digit growth in men’s footwear in 2013, which they forecast will continue this year, in concert with substantial investments in the sector.

At Barneys New York, men’s footwear “is planned up significantly in key flagship doors and online. We have and are continuing to invest capital to renovate our men’s footwear departments to maximize this great opportunity,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, a sneaker shop-in-shop opened last month, while Turkish luxury retailer Beymen’s new flagship in Istanbul’s Zorlu Center features “two separate sections for men’s shoes — designer/classic and contemporary, both double the size of our existing stores,” according to Polat Uyal, Beymen’s chief merchandising officer, who said sales of men’s shoes jumped 28 percent in 2013, outpacing overall growth in the men’s sector, which stood at 22 percent.

At Harrods in London, two new men’s rooms — slated to open in the third quarter of this year — are under construction, adding to the extensive shoe boutique the department store built almost two years ago when the retailer doubled the space for men’s footwear.

“At the time of the development, this is when we began to see the demands changing in our customers’ shopping habits and desires for a greater offer of shoes,” said Jason Broderick, Harrods’ fashion director of men’s wear, sports and watches. “We have seen a shift happening in our shoe business with a move toward even more luxury sneakers from brands such as Giuseppe Zanotti, Valentino and Lanvin driving the way forward in this field. And in the coming season we will even see Tom Ford launching his first sneaker. We have also seen brands that were traditionally associated with great women’s collections such as Jimmy Choo entering the men’s market and bringing their expertise and flair to the industry,” he said.

Interestingly, the men’s shoe department has had “a huge amount of female traffic especially in Balenciaga and Giuseppe Zanotti,” noted Broderick. “Luckily, our diverse international customers mean that we have quite a broad range of sizing, which includes smaller sizes, which the female audience is enjoying too.”

Harrods now uses the “central hub” of its men’s shoe salon as a pop-up space to showcase previews of new collections, exclusives and new brands including housing Louis Leeman and Lanvin. “We continually work to provide the customer with new brands and experiences and this space gives us an immersive environment to do so,” said Broderick.

Kalenderian credits Prada for setting in motion a sea change in the way men approach footwear. “They merged the world of formal dress shoes and sneakers. This hybrid of two completely different manufacturing constructions changed the industry, an evolution in the way we not only look at footwear in general but also the way men use shoes today,” he explained.

According to the Barneys executive, “The concept of sneakers with suits, or conversely the mix of formal brogues with jeans, are all ideas that evolved from the way the industry repurposed these classifications of footwear; you won’t be surprised to see the most classic double monk-strap shoe on the [sockless] feet of the chicest designer men’s clients.”

Stylish celebrities are also fanning demand.

“There all these sports stars and music moguls like Pharrell Williams, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake who really dress up,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s wear at Saks Fifth Avenue. “They wear designer [brands], they rap about designer, and sometimes they’re even making it. They are hugely influential, particularly in footwear, which has been elevated to a dressier level. Where there used to be contemporary, there is now something like ‘street couture.’ ”

While “sneakers are clearly at the forefront of this trend,” styles like “the slipper shoe, brogues and colorful soles are [also] pushing the creative envelope. Aggressively fashionable footwear is now the new normal,” Jennings said.

Mintel predicts the men’s footwear segment will generate $20.3 billion in the U.S. this year, climbing to $22.5 billion by 2016. That’s a big leap from $15.3 billion in 2006.

According to new data provided by NPD for the U.S. market, purchases of footwear costing $150 or more jumped 28 percent between 2012 and 2013, with the oxford and the slip-on/loafer in particular demand, accounting for 24 percent and 22 percent of sales respectively.

“It has a lot to do with a generation of men that previously focused on sneakers when they were younger, but now that they are maturing and focusing on more tailored fashion, their focus has shifted to dress shoes and boots. They see shoes as a statement piece, and so they are willing to invest,” said Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s.

He noted that athletic shoes continue to attract interest, especially from Nike: “They have raised the bar in terms of innovation and have stepped out with new technology that men are responding to, for example, the Flyknit and Lunar soles.”

Naturally, the sole has spilled to other styles. While Uyal cites the rubber bottom as an important trend combining a better price point with classic models, de Bayser predicts the next big thing in footwear will be the thick-soled rock ’n’ roll-inspired creeper, as seen chez Saint Laurent.

Whatever shoe conquers the streets next, it better be comfortable. Unlike women, willing to squeeze their feet into the most agonizing pump or sandal, men value comfort above else. Sixty-nine percent of all men surveyed by Mintel said they are ready to pay more for shoes that are comfortable. Also worth noting: When buying athletic shoes, most shoppers favor casual over performance footwear, the same study indicated.

“Sports shoe styles by luxury and fashion brands continue to deliver for us — that mix of versatile and covetable is unbeatable at the moment,” said Terry Betts, director of men’s wear at Selfridges in London, which in 2012 more than doubled the size of its Oxford Street men’s shoe department. Standing at 15,000 square feet, it is billed as the largest space in the world dedicated to men’s footwear.

What’s crucial is “to keep the offer fresh with exclusive styles and temporary concepts created in partnership with established and new-to-the-market brands,” according to Betts.

To wit: Next up is a collaboration with Italian brand Golden Goose, which in March will take over Selfridges’ two temporary sites in the men’s shoe department to launch its spring collection.

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