NEW YORK TIMES | JANE L. LEVERE
Paul Wilson, the shoemaker at the John Lobb store on Madison Avenue, helps men order bespoke shoes and boots, made from leather and exotic skins like lizard and crocodile.
Wearing a leather apron to protect himself from a possible knife slip during the monthslong process, Mr. Wilson tends to a customer’s every desire — be it the requested leather or the thickness of sole and heel height.
The finished product of his service starts at $8,000 and can climb to over $25,000.
Mr. Wilson’s painstaking attention to detail reflects a growing demand among male customers for luxury shoes, with new and well-known retailers at the top end of exquisitely designed footwear lining up in a corridor along Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, the mecca for so many high-end stores.
A few other luxury brands, like Louis Leeman and Santoni, plan to offer custom shoemaking services that cater to individual needs in their Madison Avenue stores, which are either under construction or about to open.
Following retailers like Tom Ford, Hermès and Lanvin, all with luxury men’s wear boutiques on Madison Avenue, Louis Leeman, a two-year-old brand based in Florence, plans to open its first store in December at 793 Madison Avenue, on the northeast corner of 67th Street.
Designed by David Collins Studio, which has also worked with Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, the Leeman store will resemble a Parisian apartment, with a fireplace, and a cobbler will take orders.
Erica Pelosini, who founded Louis Leeman with her husband, said the brand was opening its first store in New York because “it’s such an international city, open to new talent. Paris is more niche.”
Madison Avenue, she added, “is so compact. There’s a certain prestige for brands to be there.”
At the end of this month, customers can look forward to the reappearance of a Santoni store on the avenue. For 13 years until 2010, Santoni was between 70th and 71st Streets. It will now open a shop at 762 Madison, between 65th and 66th Streets.
The shoe retailers’ expansion plans are no doubt a result, in part, of growing demand for men’s shoes in the United States: In a report issued last month, NPD Group, a market research company, said dollar sales of men’s footwear in the United States grew 8 percent in the last two years, twice the growth rate of dollar sales of women’s footwear in the same period.
Robert Burke, a fashion consultant in New York, said men were shedding the practice of casual Fridays. “There’s a pattern with men: They want to enjoy luxury watches, Scotch, good shoes and tailored clothing,” Mr. Burke said. “They’re not price-resistant. It’s very much a status symbol. And it’s not just for baby boomers any longer — it’s for aspirational 20- and 30-year-olds as well.”
And upscale retailers recognize the value of clustering near the new luxury high-rises on West 57th Street (nicknamed Billionaires’ Row) and Park Avenue.
The latest store openings come after the expansion in January by Berluti, part of the LVMH empire. The luxury company quintupled its presence on the avenue, opening a two-level, 3,000-square-foot store at 677 Madison, between 61st and 62nd Streets.
Overseen by Antoine Arnault, son of Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH, Berluti also opened an 800-square-foot boutique on the second floor of Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s store on Fifth Avenue last December, and began selling its shoes in the store’s first-floor shoe department.
Other upscale men’s shoe retailers on Madison Avenue include J. M. Weston, at 600 Madison, between 57th and 58th Streets; Church’s, which is owned by Prada and is at 689 Madison, at the southeast corner of 62nd Street; John Lobb, owned by Hermès, at 800 Madison between 67th and 68th Streets; and Silvano Lattanzi, at 905 Madison, between 72nd and 73rd Streets.
Virginia Pittarelli, principal of Crown Retail Services, estimated these retailers were spending slightly over $1,000 to almost $1,850 per square foot for rent, with the low range north of 72nd Street and the highest rents charged between 57th and 63rd Streets.
Mimi Fukuyoshi, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for men’s sportswear and shoes for Bergdorf Goodman, said the men’s store — which currently carries the Louis Leeman, Lobb and Church’s brands as well as Berluti — consolidated two shoe departments into one on the ground floor two years ago.
“A lot of people in the market say men are shopping for shoes more like women, who want a lot of variety in their shoe wardrobe,” Ms. Fukuyoshi said. “Men in the past only invested in shoes to wear to work every day. On the weekend they would wear dirty sneakers or some sort of boring loafer. Now men are much more willing to invest in casual footwear.”
Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s apparel and accessories for Saks Fifth Avenue, which carries Louis Leeman and Santoni shoes, said sales of men’s shoes at his store “have gained momentum in the last three years.”
William Friedland, a principal in Friedland Properties, a developer that was Berluti’s previous landlord on Madison Avenue at 76th Street, said men’s retailers had begun shifting from locations near shoppers’ Midtown offices to Madison Avenue. On the avenue, he said, shoppers can find a different experience that is “more customer-focused, more of a boutique feel, more one-on-one interacting.”
And Laura Pomerantz, a real estate broker in New York, suggested growth of men’s luxury shoe retailers on Madison Avenue reflected a cycle in which “brands look for where their competitors are doing well. They want to locate near that and have a position of co-tenancy from which to grow their base.”
Giuseppe Santoni, chief executive of Santoni, said the retailer’s expansion on Madison Avenue was part of a global repositioning of its brand, which also includes a redesign of its top boutiques worldwide by Patricia Urquiola. The new Madison Avenue boutique will carry a larger selection of women’s shoes than its predecessor and a new line of accessories for men and women.
Patrick Ottomani, director for the United States for Bertuli, said the brand’s new store on Madison Avenue, which sells men’s clothing as well as shoes and accessories, was “doing extremely well. We can show all categories of products, ready-to-wear and custom shoes, clothing, leather accessories.”
He said he was not concerned that Berluti’s presence in Bergdorf Goodman would dampen sales of its Madison Avenue boutique, but that rather, it would create synergy.
Echoing her competitors, Kelli Duggan, manager of the John Lobb store on Madison Avenue — whose shoes are also sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and Leffot — said there was a “place for all” the men’s luxury shoe brands on Madison Avenue, since each had a “unique aesthetic.”
She predicted some brands’ expansion plans would benefit all businesses, since men’s shoe buying will become “a little more centralized. If you can’t find what you need in one store, then you can go a few blocks up or down and find exactly what you’re looking for. It creates a kind of centralized luxury men’s shopping experience.”