Men’s Shoes Shine at Pitti

FLORENCE, Italy — Despite a bleak economic scenario, the high-end men’s footwear sector is holding up well, according to buyers and vendors interviewed at the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade show, held in Florence last week.

“The momentum in the high-end men’s footwear market is still on,” said Cindy Ho, fashion director of 360 Style in Kuwait. “[The] fashion has turned from classics to more fun styles, and men are enjoying it, so the moment is still promising.”

Fiona Paterson, commercial director of online retailer Thecorner.com, shared the same optimistic view about the sector’s performance.

“We are investing more in the menswear business. We have built up a strong and loyal customer base that is growing year-on-year,” Paterson said. “We will continue to develop our portfolio of brands and to enrich our categories, including shoes and accessories.”

Vendors, too, were upbeat about the year ahead. “Shoes are a growing business for us, and we are expanding the range of styles we offer,” said Massimo Caronna, president of Brunello Cucinelli USA.

Several brands at the show said they hoped to capitalize on the strength in the category with new launches. For example, outerwear-focused company FGF Industry unveiled footwear for the first time at the show.

“Enlarging our brands’ offering with shoes was a natural evolution for us,” said Enzo Fusco, owner of the company, which debuted the C.P. Company and Blauer shoe collections.

While attendees at the show were optimistic about the segment, they continue to watch the ever-changing global economic and political situation.

“There are many states that will enter the phase of changing their leaders, and it’s going to be an uncertain period in many places,” Ho said. “This is going to have an impact on sales, even if we still don’t know [the full extent of the situation].”

Santoni CEO Giuseppe Santoni added, “The media’s aggressive coverage is putting excessive pressure on both the European market and the public.”

Still, Santoni was confident his firm could continue its progress this year after reporting a 20 percent increase in sales in 2011. He noted the European and U.S. markets led the way for the firm, but emerging markets such as Russia and China were also strong.

Among the brand’s wide high-end collection, Santoni introduced shoes featuring an entirely natural latex sole that emphasizes flexibility, a buzz word at the trade show this season.

A new “Flex construction” was on display at Church’s, which also showcased its classic Shanghai style in nubuck and crocodile, and introduced a colored camouflage sole on its sporty shoes.

“There is more selection, originality and color than ever in the footwear market, with the largest choice in terms of styles and brands in the casual market,” said Thecorner.com’s Paterson. “We will continue to focus on trainers — particularly high-tops — such as those by Pierre Hardy, and invest more in hybrid shoes such as those by Mark McNairy, which offer customers more versatility.”

The outdoor and athletic worlds served as inspiration for several brands. “There is a big demand for sneakers,” Ho said. “But they have to be unique and high-end.”

For a slideshow of looks from the show, go to Footwearnews.com.

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