Editor’s Note: Lessons Learned From the 2014 FNAA Winners

Welcome to the “Shoe Oscars,” our annual celebration of everything that’s right in the world of footwear.

The 13 winners are a wildly diverse group of success stories, linked by talent and perseverance. Industry newcomer and Launch of the Year winner Sarah Jessica Parker said it best when she told Footwear News that she never realized how complicated the shoe business really is. Most don’t. And considering the epic challenges of meeting the needs of an increasingly global customer, these lucky honorees have major bragging rights.

Chosen by FN’s editorial team, in consultation with an army of retailers, analysts and the numbers, the 2014 winners list reflects many major moves. The rise of athletic fashion and its integration into the luxury business has driven sales across all retail levels — and should continue to dominate headlines in the months to come.

That potent combination is evidenced by the Shoe of the Year Award for Adidas’ Stan Smith, the first time FN has handed out such an honor. The iconic shoe — part of my own fashion trajectory — had an immense revival this year, engaging everyone from hipster to hip-hopper. The rest of the list reflects an amazing group of talented players that found a deep connection with the consumer. As is often the case, the backstories are as fascinating as the achievements themselves.

RETAILER OF THE YEAR Many claim to be the biggest. But at Level Shoe District, Patrick Chalhoub’s massive Dubai shoe destination, the claims are justified. When the store opened in 2012, most of the industry didn’t realize how much it would mean to the business. Thanks to impressive stats (700,000 consumers a month! 600 pairs sold every day!) Level has lived up to its billing. With an ever-changing array of designer promotions and over-the-top parties, the charmingly intelligent Level team have become the industry darlings.

BRAND OF THE YEAR The VF Corp. machine is incredibly effective at taking iconic brands and burnishing them with seasoned management, expensive marketing and hot product. In this moment of lifestyle-driven athletic, Vans has rolled far beyond its skater roots to achieve superstar status — a textbook case of taking your authenticity to the masses.

MARKETER OF THE YEAR A number of designer shoe brands aren’t big fans of expensive marketing. Yet some of the industry’s biggest success stories take the opposite stance. When Stuart Weitzman’s dynamic team started hiring top-notch photographers and attention-getting supermodels, the brand identity soared. In a year when a certain magic eluded many luxury campaigns, Weitzman drove sales and cred with imagery that resonated.

STYLE INFLUENCER I’ve been a Nicole Richie fan since we shared the stage at the FN CEO Summit. She’s a fashion force without trying too hard and has a singular style that feels forward, fun and organic. The fact that she has her own fashion line is icing on the cake.

HALL OF FAME Sonny and Joe. Joe and Sonny. Known only by their first names, Sonny Shar and Joe Moore hold a very special place in footwear history. Moore spanned the worlds of retail and wholesale before he tackled a complicated and politically charged FFANY. Shar successfully headed up Pentland’s U.S. effort for years. But his true calling? Being everyone’s favorite uncle, ultimate cheerleader and master connector. They don’t make ’em like these two anymore.

DESIGNER OF THE YEAR Twenty years young, Giuseppe Zanotti’s label has bridged the high-end gap between street and style, men and women, athletic and high fashion. He saw the confluence of athletic and fashion ahead of many and took full advantage. A charmer, an artist and a friend to the stars, the designer effortlessly embraces his own global stardom.

COMPANY OF THE YEAR The Greenberg touch is legendary. Father-son power duo Michael and Robert never sit still. That restless energy has allowed Skechers USA Inc. to endure many challenges on its uphill march to the top. This year, the firm racked up quarter after quarter of incredible numbers while carving out a credible foundation in athletic and lifestyle product.

VIVIAN INFANTINO EMERGING TALENT Sometimes overnight success is best served at a slower boil. Alessandra Lanvin’s Aperlai has taken its proper time to find the spotlight. But the focused and charming Lanvin is an elegant ambassador for her clever shoes that manage to be both singular and sexy.

NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR Jimmy Choo could take this prize many years. In its relatively short rise to the top of the luxury footwear heap, the brand has generated so much press about internal dramas, acquisitions and meteoric growth. Under the intense and focused direction of CEO Pierre Denis, it created even more headlines this year with a new retail look and a public offering that had everyone talking.

LAUNCH OF THE YEAR Some wondered why it took Sarah Jessica Parker so long to put her name on the very business she’s impacted in so many ways. This year, the question was answered. With her characteristic attention to detail and love of fashion, SJP chose the right partner (George Malkemus), the right retailer (Nordstrom) and the right approach (hands-on and totally committed) to make a move that was guaranteed to succeed. A perfect example of how to move from soundstage to selling floor.

SHOE OF THE YEAR Before he was an iconic shoe, Stan Smith was an iconic tennis player. The athlete’s classic white Adidas court shoe, which has taken me and millions of others from boat to court to club, has had a number of comebacks in its storied history. This year, the refreshed look yet again scored sold-out status and front-row fashionista acclaim. It’s the perfect pick to win FN’s first Shoe of the Year Award.

PERSON OF THE YEAR You don’t build a powerhouse like Under Armour by being the shy type. Kevin Plank’s revved-up confidence isn’t just swagger. His heady, contagious leadership style has kept the company in the fast lane despite the challenges of being the industry disrupter. Plank is in it for the long haul, and he’s only just begun to flex his considerable muscle.

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