Sunday 21 January 2018

Nudist shoe's success shows red carpet's growing clout

NUDIST: Jennifer Lawrence is a huge fan of Weitzman shoes
NUDIST: Jennifer Lawrence is a huge fan of Weitzman shoes
Articles Of Desire: Nudist Sandals

Cotten Timberlake

For designers like Stuart Weitzman, the best place to sell shoes is the red carpet.

For designers like Stuart Weitzman, the best place to sell shoes is the red carpet.

Entertainment award shows, featuring celebrities wearing the latest fashions, are an increasingly powerful tool for design houses to tout their footwear – thanks in part to the buzz generated by social media.

For a beleaguered industry that saw women's shoe sales drop nine per cent last year, celebrity marketing is a cost-effective way to generate a hit.

Take what happened this year with Weitzman's Nudist sandal, a high-backed shoe that shows off most of the foot. After actress Jennifer Lawrence and about 40 other celebrities were photographed wearing the ankle-strap sandals at multiple events, the designer sold 25,000 pairs. Sales of that type of shoe typically run about 5,000 to 8,000.

"This is a real marketing tool for a company like ours and a product like ours," Weitzman (72), said in a phone interview.

"It's very important from a business standpoint and we actively go after it."

Weitzman isn't alone in relying more on the red carpet.

Large and small fashion houses, including Brian Atwood, Vince Camuto and Jimmy Choo, are benefiting from a proliferation of award shows and the viral power of social networking.

"The celebrities are young, they are well-travelled, they are fashion-right," 77-year-old Camuto said. "What better vehicle can you have?"

Award shows are a better catapult for shoes than other fashion items, partly because footwear is more affordable than couture gowns. The Nudist sandals cost $385 (€280) to $625 (€455), compared with thousands of dollars for the designer dresses and diamond jewellry that stars wear them with, Weitzman said.

Celebrity events also are less avant-garde than fashion runways – making the products more accessible to typical consumers – and they provide a cheaper venue than advertising.

The trend represents a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish industry. In the 12-month period ended in March, women's shoes generated $9bn (€6.5) bn) in US sales, down from $9.9bn (€7.2bn) a year earlier, according to research firm NPD Group Inc. The total women's market, including sandals, boots and sneakers, was stagnant at $23.6bn (€17.2bn).

Using celebrities to promote merchandise isn't new, though the approach has changed over the decades. In the 1950s and '60s, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly lent their star power to Givenchy and Hermes. Vogue editor Anna Wintour later began putting celebrities like Madonna on the cover of the magazine, rather than just using supermodels. And Brooke Shields and Mark Wahlberg gave Calvin Klein a lift when they appeared in provocative ads on gigantic billboards in the 1980s and '90s.

The difference now is the Internet's reach. Within seconds of a celebrity appearing in front of cameras, a shoe can travel the world on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. That means accessories worn by, say, Beyonce can sell out in a flash.

It helps that there are now more award shows than ever.

Dozens of them are televised in the US – everything from the People's Choice Awards in January to the American Country Awards in December. The Oscars, which aired in March, remain the most-watched.

Due to their frequency, the red-carpet events have become less formal, said David Wolfe, creative director of trend forecaster Doneger Group in New York. That means shoes aren't hidden behind long gowns and have a more visible role to play.

"That is one item that generates an instant response in sales," Wolfe said in a phone interview. "Most women can certainly work those shoes into their life. You can wear those sexy shoes with blue jeans."

Weitzman estimates that celebrity-driven exposure of his products has increased total revenue 10 to 15 per cent.

Atwood, a 46-year-old designer who owns a New York-based designer-shoe business, decided to actively court the red carpet four years ago after noting the success of his Maniac covered platform pump. Awards show exposure lifted sales of the shoe to more than 20,000 pairs. His $665 (€485) Besame style is currently performing well, Atwood said.

Weitzman embraced the strategy after "Mulholland Drive" actress Laura Harring wore his diamond-encrusted, million-dollar shoes to the 2002 Academy Awards. While he didn't sell those ultra-expensive sandals in his stores, his brand name was mentioned all over the world, he said.


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