Buyers Spice Up Spring

NEW YORK — Though retailers are still buying cautiously, their interest in bolder footwear styles is surging, according to vendors at last week’s FFANY show, held in New York.

Nine West Creative Director Fred Allard said buyers showed excitement for product in proven silhouettes — from wedges and kitten heels to strappy sandals and peep-toe pumps — and styles with bold design treatments. He said looks with bright leopard and zebra patterns, unique textures and shaped demi-wedge or kitten heels had top billing with retailers.

Neon coloring mixed with neutrals — an important color palette for the season — lets the retailer experiment without going too far, said Allard. Prices remain a key issue, he added, and Nine West is aiming to keep opening prices at $49 and limit the peak to $95. “We have to remember that [the customer] has to cut somewhere,” Allard said. “She needs great value, design and price — something she can wear out, but also wear to work.”

Even luxury designer Guillaume Hinfray said he was focused on the price-value equation for spring. “We knew we couldn’t lose our passion, our inspiration, but at the same time, we had to make [the collection] more commercial,” he said. To that end, Hinfray used neutral materials such as cork and linen. “We focus on making more incredible structures each season. Today, it’s time to make real shoes with value and exciting details. We have to give back value in the shoe.”

For their part, retailers responded favorably to the more fashion-forward styles at FFANY.

Susannah Siger, owner of Ma Petite Shoe in Baltimore, Md., was looking for provocative styles and colorful options for her women’s boutique. “If I go with browns and blacks, I will be out of business,” she said.

Colors and bold prints were also important for She She Shoes in Los Gatos, Calif. But the catch, explained owner Jill Varni, is that the shoes have to be in practical, mid-level heel heights for her customer base of fashionable moms.

Safe flats and vulcanized styles continued to be a best-seller among cautious buyers at Rocket Dog this season, said Andy Petersen, SVP of sales. But he was quick to note that merchants bought into bold prints and grungy, frayed styling.

“[The tough times] are almost over,” said OTBT’s Chris Schermerhorn. Buyers, he noted, have been very receptive to color and new sandal silhouettes in the spring line. “They don’t look like a deer in the headlights anymore. The confidence is back.”

Meanwhile, in the luxury men’s market, John Lagrotteria, an account executive at Bruno Magli, said the brand is still touting its classic styles for spring, but is bullish on two newly launched areas: the Ebono chukka-style sneaker in five different colors, and a new range of cork sandals. Lagrotteria added, however, that the company cut prices this season, specifically in its Platinum line, which used to retail for $1,200, but now sells for almost half that amount. “Without compromising quality, we reworked them to get [prices] down,” he said.

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