Photographed by Sam Gold exclusively for Accessories Almanac
Imelda Marcos was the First Lady of the Philippines for over 20 years. She was also a shoe addict. When protesters stormed the palace, more than 2,700 pairs were discovered in her closet. Like most women, she had a thing for shoes. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers had the ability to transport her home. In Cinderella, a glass slipper was the only means the Prince had to find his one true love.
They can also take up valuable real estate. Saks Fifth Avenue’s eighth floor shoe level has its own zip code (10022-SHOE), Barneys devotes 22,000 square feet to their shoe level, and at Bergdorf Goodman shoes are displayed with as much panache as an indulgent art collection. Shoes aren’t just practical; they’re beautiful, fanciful, and transformative. They can be worn for years—resoled and refurbished. They take you places. They also have the ability to become an instant cult item that generates mass fashion obsession. Take Gucci’s fur slides, Adidas’ Stan Smiths, and most recently, Saint Laurent’s handmade crystal encrusted boots (which, according to WWD, have already amassed wait-lists at Saks and Bergdorf Goodman despite their $10,000+ price tag).
Footwear is also becoming a bigger market than many other accessories categories. According to Euromonitor International, ‘global online footwear and apparel sales increased by 22% in 2015, and e-commerce accounted for 12% of total global footwear sales. By comparison, the total footwear market grew by 6% last year.’ And although handbags currently dominate the marketplace globally, footwear has quietly become the biggest selling category for retailers. Bergdorf Goodman, Net-a-Porter, and MATCHESfashion.com have all noticed an uptick in shoe sales over the past two years, with a particular focus on flats and emerging labels. “The shoe category continues to deliver sustained, year-over-year growth, and has decisively surpassed other non-apparel categories in terms of sales volume,” says Net-a-Porter Senior Shoe Buyer, Thalia Tserevegou. Bergdorf Goodman has seen similar growth. “Shoes have become a very significant business in the past few years at Bergdorf Goodman, enjoying consecutive double digit growth since 2012,” says Bergdorf Goodman’s Vice President of Footwear, Nayla Touma. “Unlike all other categories that are still viewed as complements to ready-to-wear, we have noticed that our customers are now building their outfits around their favorite shoes. We were thrilled this season to have more new shoe designers on the floor than any other year in recent memory - which was a big part of our Spring messaging.”
Simultaneously, brands are placing a bigger focus on footwear. “Shoes are becoming very important for us, and we are in the process of investing in our own development and controlling the manufacturing of shoes,” Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, CEO of Chloé, told WWD at the announcement of new Creative Director, Natacha Ramsay-Levi. “You will see very soon a new, refreshed portion of shoes.” MATCHESFashion.com’s Footwear Buying Manager, Cassie Smart, has also noted an increase in shoe sales. “Shoes are a key category for us - like other non-apparel categories they engage with a wide audience. We have seen strong YoY growth in this category over the past few seasons, particularly in flats. We have really grown our flat shoe offering over the past few seasons from trainers to loafers to pointed toe flats and evening flats – not only do they feel more modern but our customer is also attracted to flat styles as they appeal to their busy lifestyles.” The shift from stilettos and higher heels to flats and low, chunky heels has been growing for over three seasons now, with customers (and editors) moving towards “comfortable chic” styles. Think Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s cult-loved and best selling low-heeled suede pumps, Marais USA’s single strap slides, and Amelié Pichard's chunky heeled mules.
Retailers have also witnessed a shift in customer awareness. While clients have traditionally reached for established brands such as Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, and Christian Louboutin, they’re now becoming more interested in younger, fresher brands with exciting new styles. “Our customers are increasingly product driven rather than brand driven, which is exciting for us and encouraging for lesser known brands,” says Smart. “Our customers come to us for our innovative edit and we look to engage them with newness and help them discover new labels. In particular, our customers are drawn to lesser known brands as part of our vacation edit with a focus on artisanal craftsmanship. Spanish sandal brand Goya, handwoven espadrilles from Ball Pages, and Turkish woven flats from Sanayi 313 are all proving popular this season.”
Other new labels are having more success than ever before (a good thing to note for burgeoning shoe designers). “We have a very fashion knowledgeable customer and we see a great response rate to newness,” says Smart. “Attico is a brand we are very excited about right now, we picked up the ready-to-wear a couple of seasons ago and for SS17 launched their first shoe collection. The shoes offer something new and interesting to the heel and flats category – a mix of rich velvets, satin and crystal create a bygone opulent glamour but paired with more modern styling. The ankle cuffs are also genius, they offer an accessible price point that anyone can buy into and we saw a very fast response rate as soon as they hit the site.”
According to MATCHESFashion.com’s Market Director Megan Reynolds, woman are also focused on curating a ‘shoe wardrobe.’ “I’ve noticed women are becoming more impulsive with their shoe purchases, mostly due to smart pricing strategies with covetable brands such as Gucci,” says Reynolds. “The industry leaders are moving towards shoes as a gateway drug to the rest of the brand, as the customer receives both status and a reasonable cost per wear—but only if they chose wisely. This has led the world’s most stylish women into organically building a closet full of shoes but turning that closet into a comprehensive shoe wardrobe.” According to Reynolds, that ‘closet’ consists of 10 shoe styles, which is (really) all you need. “With an endless amount of new, women should refocus on what is needed each season to mitigate that ‘I have nothing to wear’ dilemma,” Reynolds says. “If you think about it, there are 10 categories of shoes that every woman needs to have a complete shoe wardrobe; An ankle boot, knee high boot, a pump, kitten heel, sneaker, a heeled sandal, flat sandal, derby, loafer and. a ballet flat.
“Each season offers a development within each of these categories and at times a new category emerges all together, i.e. sky-high flatforms. However, the excitement should lie less in impulse and more in what's going to allow you to achieve style everyday,” suggests Reynolds. “As more of us are getting dressed from the feet up, shoes are the primer in the art of getting dressed.”
There is no doubt that women will always have a penchant for new shoes, but an openness to experiment and try new things is a refreshing perspective for retailers and designers alike. With more new shoe brands than ever hitting the market, it is clearly a category to invest in.
Stylist: Paul-Simon Djite