Travel guides have lots of different indexes categorizing the highlights of various destinations, such as beaches, restaurants and nightlife. But for reasons not understood by FN, they always fail to highlight what — to us at least — is of chief concern: the shoe-shopping situation.
With summer travel season upon us, and with many planning July Fourth getaways far and wide, here is our definitive roundup of the best cities for fruitful footwear pursuits, in no particular order.
With its heritage cobblers such as ballerina-maker E. Porselli as well as the cluster of both local and international luxury brands that line the Golden Triangle area of Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga and adjacent streets (Via San’t Andrea, Via Gesù, Via Borgospesso), Italy’s fashion capital is still the world’s best place to go shopping for extravagant shoes. It helps that the service is particularly doting at stores such as Gucci, Gianvito Rossi, Casadei, Rene Caovilla and Santoni.
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While Harrods made quite the splash in 2015 with the opening of its Shoe Heaven — widely considered the biggest shoe floor of any department store — lots of smaller boutiques make shopping in the British capital an endless delight. Matches, the popular e-destination, has a number of brick-and-mortar locations known for their unique edit, while Browns London often pegs the next big name before anyone else. Also check out English labels and Duchess of Cambridge Catherine Middleton favorites such as Penelope Chilvers (who makes her beloved country riding boots) and L.K. Bennett (her go-to pumps). For the gents, it’s a dapper shoe-fest with labels such as Gieves & Hawkes, John Lobb, Grenson and Olivier Sweeney, turning out smart and timeless brogues, wingtips and Chelsea boots.
No visit to Spain is complete without stocking up on espadrilles, and this is their birthplace. Many local purveyors dot the city’s marketplaces, but the titan of them all is Castañer. While they manufacture the jute-soled summer shoes for Hèrmes, Paul Andrew, Valentino and others, they also have their own large line of spot-on styles. Visit the store on Rambla Cataluña and Paseo de Gracia.
The city and state are major footwear hubs populated by tons of smaller local brands. Check out Eureka for its in-house label of Portuguese-made shoes that are street savvy and very wallet friendly. Think suede flatform sneakers for less than $80 USD. For a more old-school approach, there is Sapataria do Carmo, a charming handmade shoe store that’s a bit like stepping back in time.
5. Sao Paulo
While the country’s biggest shoe brand might still be Havaianas, which Brazilians buy in bulk at the supermarket, footwear connoisseurs flock to Shopping Iguatemi, a luxury mall selling Arezzo’s classic pumps, Rio surfer bran Osklen’s raffia slingback and lots more. And do not leave town without a pair of Alexandre Birman’s signature Clarita stilettos.
Yes, to many it’s the shopping capital of the world, but most importantly, it’s home to Level Shoes, one helluva footwear fantasyland and reason enough to visit the city. The department-store concept is entirely devoted to shoes at every price point, such as flip-flops, custom croc loafers and everything in between. The brand assortment adds to the wonderland effect — from staple brands such as Chanel and Celine to a daring mix of new designers and limited-edition creations.
No visit to the Italian island paradise is complete without having a pair of handmade sandals created in front of your very eyes. The Capri Touch hotel in Ana Capri has one of the more glamorous setups for supple and simple sandals that can be bedazzled a little or a lot.
The retail scene here is like an amusement park for your credit card. For the most delight, visit the topsy-turvy Comme des Garcon-run Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Japanese department store Isetan. The display and merchandising alone is eye-popping.
9. Hong Kong
Lane Crawford and its sister store Joyce have built a sterling reputation as the place to shop for exquisite luxury shoes in the city. Added bonus: Unlike so many big department stores, there is an emphasis here on both Asian and international brands, so you really get a sense of regional tastes.
10. Dallas/Fort Worth
It’s hard to not be smitten by all the western regalia in Texas and to leave town without your own honky-tonk cowboy boots. For the most immersive experience, swing by Cavender’s, which has a number of stores in the region (and they are still family run). In Fort Worth, Finchers is another great store for snip-toes and saddle-ready styles.
11. New York City
For a shoe brand, making it in New York is still a major feat. Madison Avenue is a top designer mecca, with Aquazzura recently opening up shop a stone’s throw from Louis Leeman, Jimmy Choo and Roger Vivier. And the three B’s (Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s) continue to dole out an endless supply of dream shoes. Want to see the stilettos fly? Go right now, during the sales season.
While the grand old usual suspects — Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Bon Marche — have plenty to rave about, true shoe aficionados take a stroll down Rue de Grenelle for its selection of multibrand boutiques such as Iris and for a visit to Christian Louboutin’s original location.