Majors Battle for Big Fall Biz

NEW YORK — With department stores duking it out for best shoe floor in Manhattan this fall, executives are looking to boots, jewel-toned colors and new heel heights to drive sales.

Many are expecting higher sales this year than last, and executives are upbeat that the revamped shoe departments will attract more consumers.

As Saks Fifth Avenue CEO Steve Sadove recently said to analysts on a conference call, “Clearly, shoes have been an area of a high level of activity. Others have been renovating and adding space to their shoe floors, and [Saks’ revamped 10022-SHOE department] is part of our staying one step ahead. It’s not just the physical space [that is changing] but also the breadth and depth of product.”

The momentum is showing early this season, with boots off to a running start at Saks and other stores. “All the weather-related footwear sales were challenging last year, so we’re counting on it being cold this year. We’re selling everything from low- to high-heeled boots, and there’s also an evolution toward a more tapered or pointy last,” Ron Frasch, Saks’ president and CMO, told Footwear News.

Brooke Jaffe, fashion accessories director at Bloomingdale’s, said, “No. 1 on my list is the motorcycle boot. What’s cool about it is it’s very downtown yet pristine-looking, with more polished hardware. Riding boots are also really important, and what’s great about the bootie category is that it has become such a wear-year-’round trend. Girls wear them with short dresses and no tights — you’ve got to love the versatility.”

Execs also emphasized the continuation of the single-sole trend, noting that heel heights are moderating downward a little. Liz Rodbell, EVP and chief merchant at Lord & Taylor, noted that “platforms [are] gradually disappearing,” while Frasch said, “We see a greater demand for 85mm heel heights done with a sexier upper. We’re getting more and more feedback on that need.”

Flat is also in — in the form of the smoking slipper.

“Every designer has created a signature version of this menswear-inspired classic, updated with full fashion vibrato,” said Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ fashion director.

Rodbell added, “The smoking loafer is becoming the go-to flat because of its versatility, comfort and luxe aesthetic.”

Color is also a major story for fall. As the weather cools, spring’s hot hues, such as mint and peach, are evolving into darker tones like turquoise and rust, noted Louis Mastrogiacomo, Macy’s group VP and DMM of women’s shoes.

Jaffe said other colors driving the season include “sapphires and all the royal jewel tones.”

In addition to must-have trends, many department stores are adding new brands to entice consumers.

Lord & Taylor is introducing Loeffler Randall and Sorel in select doors starting this fall. Rodbell said, “[Loeffler Randall] resonates with the contemporary customer and offers classic boots, updated with just the right amount of trend. Combining fashion with function, the Sorel brand helps fill a niche in our winter-boot assortment.”

Bloomingdale’s is also adding new names to its stable, including Jerome Rousseau and Isaac Mizrahi. Jaffe said, “We love innovators. Jerome is someone who stands out for newness, while Isaac represents whimsy and fun in fashion.”

Meanwhile, vendors are enthusiastic about seeing their brands presented in a new light.

Susan Itzkowitz, president of Marc Fisher Footwear, which has a new, expanded corner at Macy’s, said, “Macy’s has responded to their customers’ needs with an unparalleled women’s shoe department. We are excited to be show-casing our brands on the Herald Square floor.”

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