It’s a shoe in

De­sign­ers are cap­i­tal­is­ing on our grow­ing ap­petite for shoes with limited edi­tion and hand­made lux­ury footwear while depart­ment stores are in­vest­ing in hugely ex­panded shoe salons, of­ten ar­chi­tect-de­signed to re­sem­ble art gal­leries

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Arts -

It’s no se­cret that the lux­ury end of the fash­ion busi­ness is based on a model of as­pi­ra­tion. That is, the clothes, run­way shows and cam­paigns cre­ate the im­pres­sion of a de­sir­able world, one ac­ces­si­ble with the pur­chase of an en­try-level item. It stands to rea­son, then, that big lux­ury brands make much more money from the bags, shoes and lip­sticks than they do the ready-to-wear ap­parel with which they’re de­signed to be worn. In­deed, in some cases many of the pieces shown on a run­way aren’t even put into pro­duc­tion, merely be­cause their cost — or some­times their the­atri­cal­ity — ex­cludes many.

“Ac­ces­sories have al­ways been a higher mar­gin busi­ness [than cloth­ing] and the pri­mary source of rev­enue for lux­ury brands is shoes and hand­bags,” ex­plains lux­ury con­sul­tant Ed­ward Ber­touch, a se­nior as­so­ciate at Robert Burke As­so­ciates in New York. But, he adds, the re­ces­sion has trig­gered a “show­room­ing ef­fect” — where a cus­tomer walks into a store such as elec­tron­ics re­tailer Best Buy or mid-mar­ket depart­ment store Macy’s, tries some­thing on, and then di­als up on their mo­bile phone and or­ders it for less on­line — and it “has be­come a se­ri­ous is­sue, at least in the United States”.

As Terry Betts, buy­ing man­ager at lead­ing lux­ury e-tail site Mr­Porter notes, ac­ces­sories— and, in par­tic­u­lar, shoes — con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence sales growth in the on­line depart­ment store’s cat­e­gory makeup. “Shoe sales con­tinue to grow ev­ery sea­son,” he ex­plains, “and this sea­son we have re­ally fo­cused on the ex­pan­sion of our shoe busi­ness, in par­tic­u­lar with sneak­ers, and are al­ready see­ing strong trac­tion glob­ally.” Mr Porter, like its ear­lier-es­tab­lished fe­male coun­ter­part Net-a-Porter, finds it­self well poised to ab­sorb a se­ri­ous por­tion of sales that have long been im­por­tant to bricks-and-mor­tar depart­ment stores as a re­sult of the site’s func­tion­al­ity and of­fer­ing: in a cul­ture where on­line re­tail has be­come com­mon­place, shoes and ac­ces­sories are far sim­pler an in­vest­ment for cus­tomers, given the ease of siz­ing — and the site’s sim­ple re­turn process — and ex­pan­sive of­fer­ing that ri­vals even the largest phys­i­cal spa­ces.

But the pop­u­lar­ity of shoes in re­tail stems be­yond sim­plic­ity. “It’s un­ques­tion­ably the most ex­cit­ing and de­vel­op­ing cat­e­gory in menswear at the mo­ment,” says Betts, not­ing that men con­sider shoes — whether a neat dress shoe or fash­ion sneaker — as punc­tu­a­tion to an out­fit. De­sign­ers, too, have been quick to cap­i­talise. Gucci re­cently re­leased a 60th-an­niver­sary edi­tion of its clas­sic horsebit loafer, sup­ported by global mer­chan­dis­ing and in-store ac­tiv­ity.

The “store wars” in Aus­tralia may cur­rently be about the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Myer and David Jones’s port­fo­lio of brands, but in New York — where, it can be said, things move a lit­tle faster in re­tail — stores are rais­ing the stakes with shoe de­part­ments and floors that, in the case of Saks Fifth Av­enue at 790sqm, war­rants its own zip code, 10022SHOE. “The shoe depart­ment wars have been hap­pen­ing for a while, but when Saks claimed a zip code it took things to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level,” says Ber­touch.

In­deed, in Au­gust, Macy’s, which com­prises brands with a col­lec­tively lower price point, upped the ante by ex­pand­ing its shoe depart­ment to 3623sqm, and added ad­di­tional ser­vices in a bid to com­bat on­line sales. Com­plet­ing the $US400 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment are 430 shoe-spe­cific staff and the re­cent ad­di­tion of a Cham­pagne bar. “Since then it’s been a huge area of ex­pan­sion for the depart­ment stores. The shoe depart­ment has be­come the first, and the most im­por­tant, to in­vest in.”

The 2043sqm re­vamped shoe floor that opened at Bar­neys New York’s Madi­son Av­enue flag­ship last July houses both its women’s and men’s port­fo­lio of brands, in­clud­ing some ex­clu­sive to the store, such as Nar­ciso Ro­driguez, and was de­signed by in­te­rior de­sign firm Yabu Pushel­berg in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the re­tailer’s creative di­rec­tor Dennis Freed­man to re­sem­ble a fine art gallery, con­sis­tent with its womenswear floor that opened shortly af­ter. As such, the de­signer max­imised nat­u­ral light to echo the fin­ishes through­out: Ital­ian mar­ble walls, float­ing translu­cent glass di­vi­sions to cre­ate par­tial en­vi­ron­ments, stain­less fin­ishes and lime­stone floor­ing, as well as iPad sta­tions through­out with ac­cess to Bar­neys.com.

Depart­ment stores such as Bar­neys aren’t the first area of re­tail to em­ploy the ar­chi­tec­tural method­ol­ogy of a mu­seum or art gallery in a bid to heighten the cus­tomer

ex­pe­ri­ence. The fash­ion in­dus­try, un­like many oth­ers, has the fi­nan­cial re­sources to em­ploy the same high-pro­file ar­chi­tects who de­sign land­mark art mu­se­ums: in New York City, for ex­am­ple, Rem Kool­haas, who was re­spon­si­ble for the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in Las Vegas, also de­signed Prada’s SoHo Epi­cen­ter on the site of the now-de­funct down­town New York Guggen­heim Mu­seum, and Frank Gehry, ar­chi­tect for the Guggen­heim’s Abu Dhabi site, de­signed Issey Miyake’s Tribeca store. And yet un­like the for­mula for de­sign­ing mu­se­ums, many fash­ion houses forgo tra­di­tion in pur­suit of an ar­chi­tec­tural state­ment that si­mul­ta­ne­ously serves as a tourist at­trac­tion, a tem­ple to good de­sign, and gives the fash­ion of­fer­ings a per­ceived value akin to fine art.

As ad­ver­tis­ing critic and cul­tural his­to­rian James B. Twitchell wrote in his book Branded Na­tion, “The mod­ern depart­ment store and the art mu­seum are now joined at the hip … They are all about vaunt­ing things, brand­ing things … We gaze at the framed ob­ject and flood­lit objets d’art be­hind glass. We­gawk at the dec­o­rated and el­e­gant mannequin in the store win­dow. We peer at the label be­neath the paint­ing just as we in­spect the label on the ob­ject. We need to know prove­nance, the brand, s’il vous plait, be­fore we can con­sume.”

Across the pond, depart­ment store Sel­fridges Lon­don last Novem­ber un­veiled what is now the largest men’s footwear space in the world at 930sqm. Com­pris­ing more than 250 brands, with 80 of them new to the store at the time of open­ing, it boasts ready-to-wear pieces by Kenzo,

“The mod­ern depart­ment store and the art mu­seum are ... all about vaunt­ing things, brand­ing things”

McQ, Oliver Spencer and Burberry along­side a made-to­order shoe salon and space for pop-up shops, ex­clu­sive col­lab­o­ra­tions, cus­tomi­sa­tion ser­vices and trunk shows, build­ing a stronger re­la­tion­ship with its cus­tomers.

Ac­cord­ing to The­Guardian news­pa­per, an im­pres­sive 72,000 pairs of shoes were brought in for the depart­ment’s re­launch. In con­trast to Bar­neys’ uni­sex shoe floor, Sel­fridges’ men’s-spe­cific depart­ment, de­signed by Bel­gian ar­chi­tect Vin­cent van Duy­sen, is in­trin­si­cally more mas­cu­line in a tra­di­tional sense: floor-to-ceil­ing slid­ing glass doors, oak wood pan­elling and an ex­ten­sive use of leather, in­clud­ing so­fas and floor­ing, evoke an air of clas­si­cism. Leather spe­cial­ist Bill Am­berg, who was re­spon­si­ble for the leather, ex­plained “the idea fo­cuses on the idea of leather on leather — the floor be­ing made of the same ma­te­ri­als as the soles of a gen­tle­man’s shoes. A sep­a­rate “salon” is ded­i­cated en­tirely to driv­ing shoes, the in­te­rior of which is in­spired by the body­work of vin­tage Fer­raris.

The New York flag­ship of up­mar­ket depart­ment store Bergdorf Good­man adopted a sim­i­lar ap­proach when it un­veiled its ren­o­va­tion last Oc­to­ber. Stem­ming from prac­ti­cal pur­poses — pre­vi­ously var­i­ous types of shoes, such as ca­sual and dress, were split up by floors, and there was an ob­vi­ous need to con­sol­i­date all footwear in one lo­ca­tion — the space has adopted the aes­thetic of a clas­sic li­brary. The feel­ing of a gen­tle­man’s club, re­plete with book­shelves, dark tim­ber floor­ing and pan­elling, leather couches and mar­ble bench­tops, mir­rors the slow cy­cle of men’s trends. “Styling doesn’t change as quickly in men’s as it does in women’s,” says Mimi Fukuyoshi, the store’s

The re­vamped shoe floor at Bar­ney’s Madi­son Av­enue, top left and below; Bergdorf Goodman evokes an air of clas­si­cism, above; Dou­ble Monk, left

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