The New York fashion week rise of the shoe star show

Vanessa Friedman

It was probably inevitable after the rise of the multi-thousand-square-foot shoe department (Macy’s: 63,000 sq ft; Selfridge’s, 35,000 sq ft). After all, you need something to fill that space. You need stars. And the way stars are made, in fashion at least, is during fashion shows. Enter the shoe show. Once a specialty of Milan alone, this season it has gone global. New York fashion week is full of them.

Yesterday, for example, the man who arguably pioneered the catwalk/footwear designer relationship, Manolo Blahnik, unveiled his new collection (one piece, above), alongside some short films by Michael Roberts that told various stories: of the man at work, of his childhood, of a crazy old Victorian woman abandoned by her Hungarian lover (it was the story of a pair of shoes). Characters were played by Friends of Manolo: Lucy Ferry; Amanda Harlech; Lucy Ferry’s son; and Sophie Hicks’ daughter.

Vanessa Friedman

“It’s very much all in the family!” chortled the designer as he showed off his “Little Dorrit” buckled stilettos (“crossed with Phillip II of Spain”), his pink satin booties hand-encrusted with jewels, and his favourite shoes, a pair of tasselled stilettos made from fabric “that is like Fortuny.” He also had some coin-encrusted flats (the Blahnik equivalent of Birkenstocks, left) inspired by “17th century peasants on their way to work.”

Meanwhile, on the next block was new shoe designer Alejandro Ingelmo, whose wares were likewise displayed in an art gallery (no points for guessing the implications here), while uptown was Paul Andrew, a British shoe designer who is potentially the biggest name in the NextGen, and who has been a bit of an industry secret until now.

Getty Images

Aside from his own line, which is growing, this season he also made the shoes for Donna Karan’s show, DVF’s (left, look at the feet) and Vera Wang’s, and lent his own fringed boots to Juan-Carlos Obando. He’s finally coming out from the atelier.

Pondering all of these additions to the collection schedule, I asked Blahnik why he decided to exhibit during FW. He said: “I wanted to show in New York because everyone here just buys the classic pump,” and rolled his eyes in a “wake-up-people!” kind of way.

Given the recession-driven rise in accessories, the retail response, and the threat they pose, in a where-do-you-spend-your-dollars kind of way (a $900 shoe is very expensive, but it’s a lot less than a $2000 dress, and potentially more versatile) – given that, in certain emerging markets such as India, it’s easier to sell a luxury shoe than a luxury dress – I kind of get where he’s coming from.