Bring on the shoe brigade.
Mardi Gras, the annual series of debutante and masquerade balls, parades and other forms of high-spirited revelry, took over New Orleans for several weeks leading up to yesterday’s Fat Tuesday celebration.
For independent shoe retailers along uptown’s bustling Magazine Street, the festivities proved a boon for business, even in spite of Tuesday’s rainy weather.
“Business was great this year, [especially since temperatures] were in the high 70s over last weekend,” said Adele Ralston, owner of Ele Shoes & Accessories, which specializes in women’s footwear. “People wanted to see the parades, but they took breaks in between to come shop.”
Top-selling items at Ele were spring sandals by labels including Michael Kors, Vince Camuto and Lucky Brand.
“It was nice to see people so relaxed,” Ralston said. “This winter has been amazingly uncharacteristic for everyone, so to see people in shorts, having fun, was great for business.”
Mardi Gras season proved to be a large traffic driver of tourists and locals alike, providing retailers with a strong kickoff to the spring shopping season.
“It’ll be a later season because last year Mardi Gras happened in February,” Ralston noted. “But that’s alright because March through May is our best-selling period of the whole year. This is our time.”
Local women gearing up for debutante balls flocked to high-end boutique Mimi & CeCe Shoe.
“It’s a big to-do around here this time of the year,” said Kathryn Joyner, creative director of the store, whose customers range from the 20-year-old debutante to the 70-year-old grandmother.
“Manolo Blahnik and Paul Andrew did well this year,” Joyner said. “Folks love the BB for Manolo style because it comes in an array of colors and heel heights. Although the balls are usually very traditional affairs, [girls] can be more expressive in their shoe choices.”
For male shoppers, Mardi Gras inspired a mix of comfort and style, according to Ryan Celestin, sales associate in the men’s shoe department at Perlis.
“I went to a parade in thong sandals,” Celestin said. “But I saw lots of men in Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes, which did really well [for us].”
Perlis’ customers also were attracted to more formal styles, such as square-toe oxfords by Cole Haan and white bucks.
Samantha Capone, manager of Feet First, said the Mardi Gras season drew more practical shoppers than expected.
“It was great for business because people were shopping less for Mardi Gras and more for either practicality or their spring wardrobe,” Capone said, citing Dav rainboots, Pelle Moda evening shoes and Born wedges among the store’s best sellers.
Still, not everyone was stocking up on spring staples. “Occasionally, we’d have guys come in asking for feather boas and tights for the parade,” Capone said. “It’s a bit like Halloween.”