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November 14, 2013

Women's wingtips could curb shoe slump

WASHINGTON — Wingtips aren't just for men anymore.

Retailers such as Saks and Barneys New York are selling women scores of men's dress shoe styles redesigned with different proportions or new materials. The footwear - think embellished smoking slippers and python-skin Derby flats - is fetching prices more typical of high-fashion stilettos than casual oxfords, helping chains boost sales in an area where growth was flagging.

"I love that kind of gender-bender look," said Christy McCampbell, 60, a law-enforcement consultant in Washington who recently bought three pairs of brogues, including a $1,200 pair of black Pradas with white trim. "You are not teetering in stiletto heels and yet you still look good."

Shoemakers and stores could use the boost from shoppers like McCampbell after cold weather in the spring and a general pullback in spending on non-essential items left shelves full of sandals, forcing them to take markdowns that crimped profit. Sales growth in the $23.5 billion U.S. women's fashion shoe segment was 2.8 percent in the 12 months ended in September, compared with a 4.8 percent increase for handbags, according to researcher NPD Group Inc.

Incorporating men's styles helps women's luxury shoe designers drive sales by broadening out their narrow collections, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at trend forecaster Doneger Group in New York.

"How many designer shoes with six-inch spikes does a store sell to a customer?" Morrison said. "Maybe one a season. The girl usually picks out that one shoe that she wants to wear with a special dress. When you have a wider range of shoes, it opens a wider opportunity for multiple sales."

The fashion houses have rendered the men's styles more feminine with tweaks such as more-pointed toes or higher heels. Each of the traditional men's shapes now comes in a wide variety for women, with oxford shoes, for example, available anywhere from dancing-shoe types to clunky versions that look nun- inspired. Their creators use materials including animal skins as well as embellishments like embroidery and studs that few men would wear.

Saks's lineup includes patent leather and velvet jeweled oxfords from Dolce & Gabbana for $1,195. Barneys features "distressed" laceless Marsell versions at $665. Christian Louboutin, renowned for platform stilettos, created a $1,495 python pointed-toe Derby flat, with his signature red sole. A pair of "Lorenza" $765 wingtips in perforated brown leather comes from Manolo Blahnik, widely regarded as a master of feminine shoes.

Stubbs & Wootton produces its iconic smoking slipper for women in "camo" needlepoint for $400. Bottega Veneta sells a brogue-style ankle boot with a dramatic 5-inch heel, for $950.

J.M. Weston, the French luxury men's shoemaker, introduced its first shoes designed especially for women in late September. The seven styles, created by men's shoe designer Michel Perry, include a moccasin in cognac and burgundy and are priced as high as 700 euros ($943).

"What looks so great is that there are so many different kinds of men's shoes: it's about the brogue, the loafer, the double monk, the Chelsea boot," said Elizabeth Kanfer, Saks's senior fashion director for accessories. "It's definitely different for us; traditionally we sell pretty shoes."

The trend originated as a street look that designers latched onto and at first was more about the kind of slipper that playboy Hugh Hefner has paired with his bathrobe, said Stuart Weitzman, a shoe designer whose company is owned by Jones Group Inc. Then it spread quickly to the other men's shoe styles and to multiple fashion shows, he said in a telephone interview.

"It keeps the category alive," Weitzman said. "It gives a fresh reason to buy."

Taylor Swift, Kate Moss, and Diane Kruger are among the celebrities spotted wearing such styles.

This isn't the first time men's influences have stormed women's fashion - strong-shouldered women's suits dominated the 1980s. This latest reprise is part of a multiyear androgynous phase in clothing. Many women have adopted men's styles such as motorcycle jackets, button-down shirts and cross-body bags, in part because of their practicality.

"Comfort is part of it," Morrison said. "It is the pendulum swing, it's the overreaction to the super-high heels."

Saks, based in New York, trained its sales associates to show customers how to incorporate the new shoes into their wardrobes, Kanfer said.

"We had to support the education around the trend," she said. "Customers were used to year after year of platforms."

The experts say the new look isn't going away any time soon.

              

 

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