June 28, 2013


My mother lived the majority of her life disinterested in fashion, until my sudden enthrallment with shopping and fashion magazines forced her into a relationship with trends, designers and fancy department stores. She accepted it perhaps reluctantly at first, but ultimately with open arms, and I would see her delighted by racks at Saks and Bloomingdales. As she learned about fashion and developed her own list of favorite designers, one matter consistently confounded her, and there have been several instances in which she has asked me: "Why are shoes so expensive?"

My family has had dinner table discussions about Louboutins. My father asks me how much a typical Louboutin might cost today, and I give my estimate. It launches an entire conversation and debate. And I write this in the present tense because this is something that has happened multiple times. Generally I take a defensive stance, and I believe that in this way I am fighting for the industry I feel most tied to. But simultaneously my mind runs quickly, asking me, "Are luxury shoes worthy of justification?"

Eric Wilson's recent piece for the New York Times, entitled "Shoe Battles," offers a lot of evidence in favor of the side that I defaulted to in those nights with my family. He reminds us that shoes are fetishized in fashion, a category notorious for the frenzied lack of self-restraint it inspires in many a female shopper. Wilson suggests that shopping itself is a primal urge, and with shoes giving the wearer more bang for her buck, it is no wonder that the average purchase in the shoe department of Barneys New York rings up to $850.

In Wilson's words, shoes, "offer more perceived value to a customer than a designer dress that she might wear only a few times."

"The prices are insane, and yet I could tell you a million reasons why they are justified," said Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director of Us Weekly, in the Times article.

The main justification presented is that shoes are simply becoming much more expensive to make. The introduction of the euro and its strength against American currency has driven up the cost of producing shoes in Europe. There is a gap of raw materials and leather. Asian factories are competing for quality materials. Christian Louboutin stated that, "his costs have doubled within five years." Signature Louboutin styles are often priced from $600 to $800, yet many of his over-the-top designs require a customer to shell out thousands of dollars (please refer to the collage below).
Some colorful designer shoe styles that have caught my eye.
Clockwise, from top left: Saint Laurent, $875; Manolo Blahnik, $595; Christian Louboutin, $845; Charlotte Olympia, $1,450; Nicholas Kirkwood, $640 (marked down from $1,275); Giuseppe Zanotti, $695; Christian Louboutin, $650; Christian Louboutin, $6,395.
On the other hand, the president of the Manolo Blahnik company, George Malkemus, said that shoe prices are generally "out of whack." Individuals such as my mother and father and, I'm sure, a large percentage of practical people, agree that designer shoes have reached crazy extremes. Yet luxury department stores are in fierce competition with each other to create even larger and more lavish shoe departments; the launch of Saks' famous shoe zip code seems almost a nonchalant member of the distant past.

Women (and, increasingly, men) continue to splurge on shoes, citing the fact that they will surely wear them more often than a pair of right-off-the-runway pants at the same price. Competition between stores has reached the consumer level, as shoppers flock to designer shoe sales and fight for the last pair in their size.

The president of Bergdorf Goodman, Joshua Schulman, put it frankly: "I don’t have any concern that this phenomenon is going to go away anytime soon."

So, mother, why are shoes so expensive? Well, because people are buying them!

Click here to read Eric Wilson's New York Times article, "Shoe Battles," in its entirety. All quotations are excerpted from this article.