European Stores Seek Spring Lift

LONDON — After a slow start, European shops are looking for spring sales to pick up as temperatures rise.

Many retailers polled last week said that while the economic situation is still causing concern, they expect this season to be better than last, and that renewed interest in lower heel heights is helping to drive sales.

“Customers are definitely moving away from higher heels toward more wearable styles,” said Michelle Vaughan, buyer at London’s Poste Mistress. “They seem to want styles that can be worn every day rather than just occasionally. Mid-heels and wedges are selling more than high heels [because of the greater wearability factor] and because spring ’10 collections had far more [of these] styles in them.”

At Matches, buying director Bridget Cosgrave noted that so far the response to the new low wedges and slightly lower heel heights has been positive, singling out Stella McCartney’s cork wedges as a “fantastic” performer. The lower-heeled Christian Louboutin pumps in nude also have sold well.

Meanwhile, at Browns, Louboutin’s espadrilles and YSL clogs are among the top styles, in addition to casual footwear such as Hunter boots and Newbark slippers. According to accessories buyer Pam Brady, “Shoes that make a statement and are exclusive are selling without hesitation. Real fashion followers do not hesitate in purchasing Alaïa sandals for around $1,500 because they are special and a real investment.”

Overall, sales at the retailer are up, but “we would have liked to be in a better position by this point,” Brady said, noting that some customers had waited for the weather to improve before shopping for new styles.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the delayed start to spring also has had an impact in an already difficult climate.

“The winter was freezing here, the economic situation is not good and there are fewer people traveling,” said Miguel Lobato, owner of Lobato, an 8-year-old women’s boutique in Le Marais in Paris. The retailer noted that customers have only started to buy open-toe shoes in the last 10 days.

Lobato said Balenciaga’s demi-wedge sandal and styles by best-selling brand Margiela had been strong.

“Seventy percent of collections are high and dressy, but you have to really look for shoes that are wearable, with medium heels that are also good looking,” he explained.

In Germany, which has had one of Europe’s strongest economies of late, retailers said sales have been brisk so far this season, despite the weather. At The Corner in Berlin, footwear sales are up 40 percent year-over-year, according to co-owner Emmanuel de Bayser, who said Christian Louboutin is the retailer’s best seller. Other popular styles include boots by Isabel Marant and military looks by Giuseppe Zanotti for Balmain.

Henning Korb, a buyer at Apropos, which has branches in Düsseldorf and Cologne, Germany, said he was pleased with the retailer’s start to the year, despite the cold temperatures that delayed sales of many warm-weather styles. Korb cited Louboutin’s simple pump and the Tory Burch Reva ballerina as top performers.

In Milan, however, the retail mood was mixed.

At Vergelio, which has stores across Milan and sells brands such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Tod’s, business has been tougher. “The worldwide crisis has had a heavy influence on the psychological attitude of consumers,” said store manager Roberto Vergelio, adding that sales are lower than in 2006 and 2007, before the crisis hit.

Meanwhile, Antonia, which has a clientele of TV personalities, fashion editors and wealthy tourists, has been unaffected by the recession, according to managing director Daniela Ilari. Yet Ilari pointed out that the multi-brand store, which specializes in high heels by the likes of Louboutin, Pierre Hardy, Brian Atwood and YSL, has seen some shifts in consumer demands. “It’s unusual for us that we’re now getting requests for lower heels at medium heights,” she said.

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