Sneakers Wedge In

The high-flying sneaker wedge shows no signs of coming down for fall ’13.

More than a year after Isabel Marant launched her Willow style, which was hugely successful from the start, that shoe is still selling out at retail. And now labels at every other price point, from Prada to Candie’s, are also cashing in with their own takes on sneaker wedges.

“We have brands, both on our designer and contemporary floors, that have made a statement with wedge sneakers over the past few seasons,” said Tracy Margolies, SVP and GMM of women’s shoes at Bergdorf Goodman, who listed Isabel Marant, Giuseppe Zanotti and Ash Footwear as three labels generating big sales. “I don’t envision it slowing down anytime soon.”

Corey Vason, senior buyer for Piperlime.com, named Ash as one of the e-tailer’s top sellers. “Ash really understands this trend is doing some amazing business,” he said.

And overall, Vason added, the company is upbeat about the sneaker wedge.

“We will continue to add to this category. It is one of our top silhouettes and will still be very important in the fall. Sport-casual footwear is dominating the marketplace.”

In addition to Ash, brands that are resonating on Piperlime include Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloé and Steve Madden.

Sharon Graubard, SVP and fashion director at trend-forecasting firm Stylesight, observed that, while the sneaker wedge itself and the idea of the sneaker as a fashion item have existed for years, this latest incarnation hit the market at an opportune time.

“It was that exact moment when the wedge shoe was getting big,” she said. “There was also a huge trend toward luxe sneakers, which is still happening. It was almost inevitable that those things were going to meld. It’s commercial now, [and] my feeling is that it has become a new category. It’s just another shape that will be updated every season.”

The shoes’ comfort factor and the wide range of category options also have contributed to demand among consumers.

“In footwear, this comfort-fashion balance can sometimes be difficult to achieve, so the customer is excited by this concept,” said Shopbop.com footwear buyer Tia Powers. “This style also is being seen from many different designers, on the runway and on celebrities, but it is still accessible because the product offering is available at many different price points.”

In the athletic realm, brands including Adidas, Nike and Puma have brought the concept to a new audience by introducing sportier interpretations and making inroads into younger, faster retail accounts such as Urban Outfitters, American Rag and Karmaloop.com. “[Puma wedge styles] have been blowing out,” said Joe Farese, head of women’s footwear at Boston-based Karmaloop. “We can’t keep them on the shelf.”

Puma North America’s Tara McRae, VP of strategic planning and management, said many of the label’s retail partners are seeing an uptick in demand. “We’ve also had an incredible response from consumers, particularly on the social media front,” she added, noting that Puma increased its fashion sneaker options for fall ’13. “Having a sport brand participate in this trend makes [a lot of] sense, as we have the credibility in the sneaker design space.”

For their part, athletic retailers confirmed they are seeing more traction with fashion-oriented consumers. “The Nike Dunk Sky-Hi [wedge] has been amazing,” said Clyde Edwards, creative director at Miami sneaker shop 1973 by Mr. R. “Anything I get in, I sell out within two or three days. I can’t book enough of that shoe.”

Edwards brought in Nike sneaker wedges in January and will add Adidas this summer. “[The sneaker-wedge customer tends to be] that visitor from Europe, as well as a streetwear girl who’s into sneakers but now can wear them with a wedge.”

But with so many brands from all areas of the industry getting in the game, is there a danger of oversaturation?

“It’s been pushed hard, and when it starts being pushed into lower price points, it’s concerning,” Karmaloop’s Farese said. “But it’ll [hold out for] another year or two.”

Chuckies New York owner Richard Erani suggested the style’s ubiquity could be an issue for higher-end boutiques.

“Like everything else, the minute things become so oversaturated, they just lose their novelty,” he said. “What will happen is everyone is going to come out with their version of athletic, and little by little, it will slow down.”

Still, Erani remains optimistic that many companies will get mileage out of the silhouette for the next several seasons. In fact, the retailer increased his sneaker-wedge orders for fall ’13, adding Isabel Marant to a mix that already includes versions by Giuseppe Zanotti and the store’s private label.

“It definitely is a good trend and it has been overdue,” Erani said. “Women always like that little bit of height. Isabel Marant made [the sneaker] sophisticated so women could wear [an athletic style] without feeling like they were wearing their daughter’s shoe.”

He predicted that the highest-end labels have the best chance to outlast the trend. “Believe it or not, [a higher price point] actually helps the brand,” Erani said. “Although [shoppers] will probably buy fewer [sneaker wedges] a year or two from now, it will still be relevant for the [luxury] customer. A few people will be left standing, and Isabel Marant will be one of them.”

An alternate path for the trend in the women’s marketplace could be the diffusion effect, where women’s and athletic labels take the sport-fashion influence beyond the wedge.

Sneakers, in general, have pervaded fashion for years. Brands such as Ash, Jeffrey Campbell, Adidas and Sam Edelman have experimented with alternative silhouettes such as flatforms and peep-toes, layering on other trends including studding, florals, color-blocking, slouchy suede and metallics. Puma also will explore new fashion silhouettes starting in the fall.

“We may see that wedges are just one player in a more well-rounded fashion sneaker assortment,” said Shopbop’s Powers, noting that a number of different variations performed well in recent seasons. “The fashion sneaker trend has longevity, and the customer will respond best to the pair that offers her the ideal mix of style, versatility and comfort.”

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