Saks Fifth Avenue is zeroing in on the designer sneaker craze.

This story first appeared in the February 6, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The upscale retailer has opened an in-store shop on the seventh floor of its New York City flagship for a new footwear concept devoted exclusively to sneakers.

“For the last three seasons, the whole dress/designer sneaker business has skyrocketed,” said Eric Jennings, men’s fashion director of Saks. “Men’s shoes are the fastest-growing portion of our men’s business.”

This trend toward “street couture” finds men today paying close attention to their feet as the “gateway to a new style of dress,” he added. “They’re willing to take risks and be more fashion forward.” Price points don’t seem to be relevant here either, Jennings said, with customers willing to open their wallets for pricy, trendy kicks.

With that as the backdrop, Saks made a decision: “Go big, or go home,” Jennings said. The “Saksneaks” boutique is located next to the regular shoe department on the tower side of the seventh floor, which houses the store’s more contemporary lines. It is also adjacent to the denim department, which is also experiencing a bump in sales.

“It’s brought a whole new customer to the store,” Jennings said. “You go in and see guys buying shoes to wear that night or for the weekend. And it starts with the sneakers and then goes into denim and leather jackets,” Jennings said. “They’re both benefiting from the increased traffic.”

The department features many big designer names, which have created exclusives for the store. These include Giuseppe Zanotti, Jimmy Choo, Bally, Fendi and Pierre Hardy, Jennings said. The shop also offers shoes from Givenchy, Dior, Prada, Lanvin, Versace, Valentino and the Adidas by Raf Simons and Y-3 collaborations.

The shop features a new logo, graphics and lighting to set it apart from the rest of the footwear assortment.

Jennings said 16 Saks doors will “have visual statements” starting Feb. 22, the official launch date for the department. The New York store installed the shop last week to capitalize on the crowds in New York City for the Super Bowl. The sneakers will also have a dedicated space on the store’s landing page and the Fifth Avenue windows will be devoted to the concept later this month. “In New York, it will get the full red-carpet treatment,” Jennings said.

Outside New York, Saks will have events in Houston, Chicago and Boston with basketball and hockey players and will install billboards in those cities and others to advertise the new addition.

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