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Designer Shoe Prices A 'Concern,' Barneys Exec Says

Posted: 03/27/2012 8:31 am Updated: 03/27/2012 1:51 pm

You know something is wrong when high-end department stores are complaining about the cost of designer shoes.

"The prices have shot up dramatically," Daniella Vitale, chief merchant and executive vice president of Barneys New York told Women's Wear Daily. A few years ago, a girl could score a pair of designer shoes for around $400. Now, the average amount spent on a pair of shoes at Barneys is $770.

The prices have gotten so high that even Barneys claims it is worried about losing business, according to Vitale. "The concern is if the average price point continues to go up, people will stop buying multiple pairs," she said.

The price hike on designer shoes is an anomaly, even for the fashion industry: overall apparel prices actually declined between between 2007 and 2010, according to Consumer Price Index data calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So what's making footwear so expensive? There's the issue of fluctuating exchange rates driving up prices (most designer shoes are manufactured in Europe) and that commodity costs are on the rise. But the main reason is less concrete -- people keep on paying for designer shoes, even when a pair of classic Manolo pumps starts at $595 and a pair of Martin Margiela python boots could set you back $1,875.

In many ways, outrageously priced shoes have become the new designer handbags. Over the past few years, brands like Christian Louboutin and Nicholas Kirkwood have pioneered the "status symbol" shoe, distinguished by its flashy details: red soles, glittering studs, angular platforms and heels that match the price. While the materials that go into making these shoes are costly, high prices also help convince shoppers that they're getting something truly precious.

Stores are hoping to cash in: Macy's, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman are all in the process of expanding their shoe departments.

Barneys New York is not the only one who claims to be worried about prices. The CEOs of Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik also told WWD they were watching the trend. "When [designer] ready-to-wear priced itself out of the realm of most consumers, shoes and bags were still affordable," Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus said. "Now, what’s happened is the shoe people and the bag people sort of lost control of that and they are scaring off a certain consumer.”

But do luxury department stores really care about attracting middle class shoppers? Certainly not if it means losing prestige with the uber-rich. Luxury spending is fueling growth in the fashion industry, as profits at upscale stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom show. And unlike heel heights, which were noticeably more demure this spring, shoe prices probably won't go anywhere but up as long as brands are making money.

WATCH: When this episode of "Sex And The City" aired in 2003, a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes cost $485.

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Filed by Alice Hines  |