SHOE BUSINESS
FROM LADYLIKE LOOKS TO GLAM SKINS, FASHION TAKES THE LEAD ROLE.

Byline: Wendy Hessen

Shoes, like nearly every other accessories category, have been enjoying a healthy growth spurt in the last year or so. And as in accessories, fashion looks rather than basics are the driving force behind that growth.
Now, with the fall ordering process well under way, manufacturers are expecting yet another strong season.
“We’re ahead in the upper teens over last year’s bookings,” said Matt Rubel, chairman and chief executive officer of Cole-Haan. “On the retail side, comp growth in our own stores in March and through the first two weeks in April was up 16 percent, compared with the same period last year.”
Ian Wright, owner of GFW Group, makers of the Kate Spade, Isaac Mizrahi and Adrienne Vittadini collections, was just as enthusiastic about the pace of business.
“Our Kate Spade business is quite amazing,” Wright said. “It’s double what I would have thought it would be in the first year, and the sell-through is higher than usual.
“Vittadini and Isaac are both looking at substantial increases for fall as well,” Wright added. “Vittadini is still our largest business, with bookings for some stores almost double what they were a year ago. Many are expanding the number of doors and adding more depth per store in both styles and inventory per sku.”
“We never dreamed that we would have this type of success out of the gate,” remarked Robin Marino, president of Kate Spade. The company’s shoe collection debuted late last year for resort.
In recent seasons, color and a wide range of materials have exerted a considerable hold on retailers and consumers alike. Fall 2000 will be no different, with shoe departments offering just about every shade of red, green or camel, with classic black sprinkled in.
“Stores are less reluctant than ever about booking color,” said Nanni Froehlich, director of sales at Sigerson Morrison. “The success of color this spring really broadened their minds. For us, red is very strong and easy for consumers to understand. But also chic is beige and camel, sometimes with colorful accents, like burgundy. Mud green — green with a brown tint — will work with all the tweeds in clothing, and metallic leathers and colored patent leathers are also selling well.”
Exotic skins, real or faux — especially python, alligator and crocodile — leather, suede and wool are key materials for shoes and boots. Consumers will have no trouble finding anything from a loafer to a pump to a day-into-evening sandal, in any of these materials.
At Schwartz & Benjamin, producer of Anne Klein and Yves Saint Laurent footwear, Maria Casabianca, Northeast sales executive, said stores have “definitely gotten the buzz about python, and they are all jumping on it, either in color or a more neutral palette. We’ve also sold some suede or sherpa. There is just more excitement in shoes and a more focused direction than there was last year.”
At Via Spiga, which is made by Intershoe, a spokesman said both the company’s own stores and its wholesale accounts have been focusing on python for transition, then layering on suede and crocodile-printed leather for later in the fall. He said suede has booked strongest when it is accented by contrasting stitching, giving it a retro feel.
GFW’s Wright said python is the top booking fabrication for the Vittadini and Mizrahi lines, with classic, neutral palettes leading at Vittadini and colorful, painted versions number one at Mizrahi. “Skins are what stores are looking for to make a statement for fall,” he said.
Cassandra, a burnished alligator pump that will retail for $1,200, has been a top-booking style at Cole-Haan. Rubel attributed the model’s success to its hand-crafted feel as well as its sculpted, yet ultra-feminine shape.
“It leaves the wearer with the ‘it’s made for me’ impression,” said Rubel.
The return to femininity, which has been percolating in recent seasons, seemed to culminate with the recent fall ready-to-wear shows here and in Europe. The runway presentations exploded with ladylike looks, and the trend has sparked a resurgence of a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen in a generation: matching shoes and handbags.
Reed Krakoff, executive creative director at Coach, said store executives were doing a lot of talking about the concept.
“In our own stores, customers have liked the special novelty bags we’ve created, but they have complained about not having a shoe to wear with them. And our department and specialty store accounts feel that cultivating a connection between handbags and shoes helps to boost brand recognition and at the same time works with fashion, too. The matching works on several levels: It goes along with the ladylike theme and has a bit of a retro Forties feel, too.”
While Kate Spade’s Marino conceded that the company has had a great deal of success selling matching handbags and shoes, she was reluctant to dwell on the point.
“We have customers who are buying our shoes and wouldn’t dream of wearing a matching bag. But there is also a customer that doesn’t want to think about individual style, she just wants it to match,” said Marino. “Our top styles are an interesting mix, from a black leather loafer to charcoal wool or cranberry tweed slingbacks.”
Beside those discreet ladylike looks, mules and sandals are still expected to be strong throughout the fall and winter. Boots, too, are coming on strong in just about every length from chic, high-heeled ankle booties to knee-high styles with a variety of heels heights.
A spokeswoman at Stuart Weitzman described the move as one “away from the utilitarian toward a more luxurious, sexy and feminine feeling.”