Rise of luxury shoe brands like Jimmy Choo, Roger Vivier & others in Indian fashion

If you want to answer the proverbial chicken and the egg question vis-a-vis women and shoes, "How many shoes does a woman need", this is as good as it gets. If Imelda Marcos needed 1,060 pairs (some reports say 2,700), there's the recent case of US-based hedge-fund titan Daniel Shak suing his ex-wife and pro poker player Beth for amassing 1,200 pairs (mostly over $400). Daniel has since dropped the lawsuit but Shak claimed that she bought the shoes to fill the void in her loveless marriage.

But this is not just about women's shoes. May be Indian women are filling a void, may be men have just discovered that there's more to shoes than one pair but footwear is one of the fastest growing consumer segments in the country. Given that the per capita consumption of shoes in India has gone up from 1.1 shoes a year in 2011 to about 2.5 shoes per year, we could soon have our very own shoe senoritas. A February 2012 Assocham report said that the Indian footwear industry is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 15% and is likely to reach approximately Rs 38,700 crore by 2015 from the current level of around Rs 23,600 crore. The reasons are plain vanilla: growing fashion consciousness, increased disposable income among India's urban middle class (45% of overall footwear market), low production cost, blah blah. But the real story is the rise of the humble shoe in the fashion food chain.

Designer Ravi Bajaj had lamented, "Fashion starts from the waist up with the shoes being relegated to the background." Even blogs tracking Indian celebrities' coming-of-age fashion consciousness point out that well thought out looks falter at the feet. Shoes, like feet, till now have been on the backburner. Not for us the Carrie Bradshaw cult of Manolos (yes, she's on first name basis with her shoes) or the bunion-causing nosebleed heels of Victoria Beckham.

But Deepika Gehani, creative head of Genesis Luxury Fashion that brought in Jimmy Choo — one of the first luxury shoe brands to come in to India in 2009 — says that it's changing now. "Earlier, new, aspirational consumers entered the designer segment through handbags. But in many cases, shoes are becoming an entry point today. Shoes have become the new handbags," she says. In three years of Jimmy Choo in India, they have five exclusive stores in three key Indian luxury markets — Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore — nothing compared to 50 stores in five years in China.

Fashion designer and style blogger Akanksha Redhu — who was part of red Shoe Soiree project for Steve Madden's India launch — ranks shoes at No 2 after bags for accessorising a look. "Shoes have their unique place in dressing that will always be the same but the amount of focus that place is now receiving is increasing," she says. When Indians Shoe Shop

The Assocham survey noted that buyers upgrade their shoe collection every two months and usually spend about Rs 6,000-8,000 every four months on branded footwear. Business consultancy Tecnova India — it assisted Christian Louboutin enter India by surveying the market for them — found out that while women purchase 1 branded pair of footwear per month, men purchase a pair per quarter.
"Women usually shop in the more unorganised sector because of lower prices but it's the men who are driving the growth of the branded segment," says Kanchan Lall, associate vice-president, Tecnova India. She adds, "Luxury footwear market [starts at Rs 15,000] is not more than 1-2% of the total market, while the premium segment [starts at Rs 5,000] occupies 15-20% of the market and is growing faster," she says.

Redhu says that though women have started paying more attention towards their shoes/heels, they are yet to shell out big for shoes. But they also never had the choices. Agreed Blahniks (available on beStylish.com) and Kirkwoods haven't come to India but with the Louboutin entry, it has become a "hot" segment.

Apart from the shoes with the sole of the devil, the recent entrants are Steve Madden, Paul & Shark, Tod's and Bally. Ermenegildo Zegna, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hermes, Chanel, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Armani, Versace, Hugo Boss offer their line of shoes.

McQueen and YSL are available through TSG's Kitsch. Multi-brand designer shoe store Mumbai-based La Scarpa, meaning the shoe in Italian, also offers exclusive brands starting at Rs 15,000 to Rs 1,20,000. Come September, Reliance Brands will open its first Kenneth Cole outlet.

"The need for luxury shoes in India has become very critical," says La Scarpa's Bhavna Radhakrishnan, whose passion for shoes fuelled the setting up of this store in Mumbai's Grand Hyatt.

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