Season after season fashion designers introduce new ready-to-wear collections with a percentage of their designs heading straight to retail. While the average consumer may not be able to buy the latest dress or coat on the runway, her ability to connect with brands through “investment pieces” is pivotal to the industry.
For years, handbags and outerwear have been in the “investment” category, but following New York Fashion Week’s fall 2014 shows, Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Holmes made an observation: “As more designers see the profit potential in footwear, they are lavishing more attention on the shoes they send down the runway.”
While creating the season’s “it” shoe may result in a quick retail hit for some designers, there’s a long-term incentive for creating a signature design, one that can be trotted out for seasons to come.
“It takes a lot to pull off a look head-to-toe, but with footwear — pun intended — you’re dipping your toe into a trend and getting to wear the designer’s vision in a very compact way,” said Footwear News fashion editor Mosha Lundström Halbert. “We’re seeing more and more that the entire ethos, mood, inspiration of an entire collection is being captured in the footwear.”
In 2006, then-budding fashion designer Tory Burch introduced an elastic-back leather ballet flat with a gold cut-out medallion and named it the “Reva” after her mother. Her collection, consisting primarily of resort essentials, had fallen into the luxury market category and the flat sold for $195 at the time, for many buyers, a significant investment in a simple shoe. While an Oprah-endorsement put Burch’s signature tunic in the spotlight, the Reva flat quickly became the star of the show. By June 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported that more than 300,000 pairs had been sold.
Today, even as Burch’s ready-to-wear evolves, the Reva remains.
“We bring [the Reva] in every season in a variety of colors and fabrics,” says Karen Fabbri, owner of footwear boutique Moxie. “We think, ‘Is this the season it’s not going to sell?,’ but it always sells full price.”
Does recycling a hit style when you are a respected designer make you a sell-out? Not so much.
“As a designer you want to evolve and you want to progress,” said Saks Fifth Avenue fashion editor Soo Young Kim. “Tory’s collections have gotten more interesting, but you don’t want to leave your original customer behind. Holding onto a shoe model that you’re known for lets the people who know the surface of your brand that they can still rely on the one thing that made you fall in love with the designer in the first place.”
Rag & Bone cofounder Marcus Wainwright put an emphasis on timelessness and versatility when designing the fashion label’s Newbury boot in 2009. While their ready-to-wear made them a fashion favorite and their denim a retail staple, they approached footwear with a similar long-haul mind-set.
“When you introduce something, you’ve got to educate the consumer about what it is, and you’ve got to stand behind it,” said Wainwright. “I think, to do that, you’ve got to do it repetitively for a few seasons. That was a boot that everyone loved, so we decided to keep it, but it did take a while. We sold it well in our stores. It took a while to persuade the sort of wholesale accounts, some of them, to get behind it, but when they did, it went crazy.”
The label’s “downtown cool” DNA was infused in the design of the simple low-heeled leather ankle boot, guaranteeing the ability for reinvention, through each runway and retail season. The Newbury retails for $495.
“It had everything about the brand in it,” said Wainwright. “I think it had a little bit of androgyny. It was a boot that was a little bit tougher, a little bit more downtown New York. It was something that you can obviously re-materialize in lots of different leathers. Seasonally, you can do stuff that’s just specific to the season, but you can always run it in black.”
So is the investment shoe the new investment handbag?
“When you buy a popular clothing item that is being worn by a lot of bloggers or photographed in magazines, you may feel restricted to only wear it a few times that season,” says Kim. “I think that’s maybe why the average fashion buyer is investing in a staple shoe. They can wear it season after season because the brand is still making it season after season and no one will be looking at you like, ‘This person is late to the party.’ ”Rachel Raczka can be reached at email@example.com.