Letter From the Editor: Good Times

What a difference a year makes.

2010 marked an important period of recovery for the industry. Refreshed and revitalized after the devastating recession, the most proactive brands, retailers and designers put their best foot forward this year to create a new template for the future. Their collective efforts created a dynamic shoe business at a time when many other fashion categories struggled.

Footwear’s “heeling” power at retail cut across many categories, from men’s to athletic, juniors’ to luxury. And as the year closes, the global impact of a renewed shoe business has lifted store traffic and sales results.

Triumphing over the incredible challenges of the past couple of years, the winners of the 24th Annual Achievement Awards reflect the incredible diversity and depth of talent in the industry today. Every one of the 2010 FNAA honorees — chosen by the editors of FN — rose above the fray and redefined the scope of the footwear business.

The 11 recipients and three Hall of Fame inductees prove that the best stories are the ones that inspire an entire industry.

PERSON OF THE YEAR Where would footwear be without Mr. Louboutin? Like all great designers, Christian understands how to read the moment. Even in a recession, he was able to make a reluctant customer feel good about shopping. He knows his business, loves his customers, embraces the arts and travels relentlessly around the world as shoedom’s de facto ambassador of elegance. In his prime, the red-sole king’s power is undeniable.

COMPANY OF THE YEAR You have to hand it to Wes Card. He runs a complex business, full of moving pieces that are challenging on many points. He clearly understands the power of strategic alliances, clever partnerships and the right brand mix. Along with his smart, strategic team, he has worked hard to inject The Jones Group with new life, new players and new direction. Nowhere was that more evident than in the shoe business, where the firm acquired Stuart Weitzman, fine-tuned the Nine West formula and forged a new deal with our Designer of the Year, Brian Atwood.

RETAILER OF THE YEAR Selfridges made the kind of retail statement that others only talk about, with a shoe department that truly boggles the mind. When I toured the store this fall, I braved a sea of tourists and locals alike, who came for the same reason I did: to see the world’s largest shoe temple. No one can touch Selfridges’ selection, environment and real estate.

DESIGNER OF THE YEAR Brian Atwood is no flash in the pan. He’s paid his dues in a wide range of high-profile design gigs, and all along has carefully tended to the growth of his namesake line. But this year, he raised the bar. In addition to a new deal with Nine West, Mr. Atwood refocused his own collection. He manages to be the “It” boy, but with the added benefit of solid experience and a devoted following. The future is bright.

BRANDS OF THE YEAR It started as one man’s passion and has grown into one of the most vital brands in the business. Blake Mycoskie’s idea to marry philanthropy with fashion has resulted in a powerful business model that has defied critics and engaged imitators. In a similar sense, Vibram’s trendsetting and category-defining product has set off an explosion in the barefoot running movement. Two powerful brand statements.

MARKETER OF THE YEAR Reebok used some clever messaging — and clever product — to turn in one of the more impressive comeback stories of the year. From ZigTech to EasyTone, the athletic brand rode the elevator of success and managed to shed the image of a down-and-out brand story. It is the kind of turnaround that rarely happens by accident.

I had dinner with Ivanka Trump the night of her shoe launch. I knew she was smart and savvy. What I learned that evening was how much she loves fashion and how determined she is to take the shoe industry by storm. This girl means business!

INDEPENDENT RETAILER OF THE YEAR The Tannery’s new Boston location isn’t just a beautiful store, it takes independent retailing to a whole new level. Expansively sleek, the store combines the polish of a high fashion boutique with the service and selection that has made the Tannery a legend in Beantown.

VIVIAN INFANTINO EMERGING TALENT When I first met Charlotte Olympia Dellal, I was impressed by her sense of style and unique style. Flash forward a few seasons and one can see that she is ready for the long haul. Her elegant-yet-quirky aesthetic manages to bring a much-needed dose of humor to the industry and clearly sets her apart from the pack.

PHILANTHROPY AWARD Wayne Elsey has turned Soles4Souls into a force to be reckoned with. His relentless efforts are helping to make sure the organization gets the kind of exposure that will take the group’s initiatives far beyond its original roots. Look no further than the work done in Haiti this year for proof.

It is hard to sum up the incredible accomplishments of a Dawn Mello or a Burt Tansky. Each has left a profound impact on fashion retailing. Each has a long history of helping designers build their businesses. The same could be said for Jack Minuk, who defined the face of Nordstrom’s shoe department for many years. All three of our Hall of Fame inductees are stuff that legends are made of. Impressive as the class of 2010 is, these three show the rest of us what greatness is all about.

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