Traditionally, other than the Uggs and Crocs of the world that take part in runway collaborations, presentation-style shows are leveraged by brands to showcase footwear collections. But, arguably, footwear brands exhibiting at LFW have to try harder to cut through the noise. This season, for example, Helen Kirkum, known for her upcycling of thrown-away sneakers, brought living spaces into her presentation, with models performing everyday tasks like reading or listening to music.
But that can get expensive — and most emerging designers don’t have the luxury of doing something sure to stand out. Even regulars including Rixo and Dilaria Findikoglu did not showcase collections this season.
“I understand why certain designers have decided to opt out this season,” said Alfredo Piferi, founder of luxury shoe brand Piferi. The brand has had £5 million in sales since it launched as a vegan luxury shoe brand in 2020. “If you don’t have sponsors, it ends up costing you a lot of money. The business is more valuable than an event, and you can’t compromise it just to throw on an event.”
Piferi was determined to do something more memorable. And so, for its first show, held on September 17, Piferi leveraged the support of five sponsors.
“It is perhaps more buyer- and customer-compliant to do a static presentation, because they can go there and see the product, and then we can talk about that,” said Piferi. “But my buyers and I have a very direct contact all the time – I show them sketches before I release the collection, and I always make sure they are totally updated with what’s going on in Piferi.”
In light of the August murder of the vogue performer O’Shae Sibley, in a racially motivated homophobic attack, Piferi wanted to commemorate and shine a light on the LGBTQ+ community and the ballroom culture. So, at the height of LFW, Piferi hosted a ball.
“I love the vogue scene and the voguing,” said Piferi. “It’s very expressive. When it comes to shoe presentations, it’s always very difficult to [make] people want to come, where don’t have to drag them in.” None of the ball dancers wore shoes from the brand’s new spring 2024 collection. Instead, they wore custom-made shoes that were easy to dance in.
Brands in London are no strangers to making political and activist statements during fashion week: Sinéad O’Dwyer has been bringing female-identifying models of all sizes to her catwalk for the past few seasons, while the designers behind Noki bring rave-level upcycling and sustainability activism to theirs.
The event, which attracted hundreds of people to the Windmill cabaret club in Brixton, London, was highlighted by Browns buying director Ida Petersson as LFW’s best show format.
America and the Middle East are Piferi’s top markets, based on sales, with retailers including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Galeries Lafayette Doha stocking the brand.
However, not all buyers are so open to stocking a unisex luxury footwear brand. “I had a very challenging meeting with a buyer last week where he was saying to me, ‘I’m not buying your shoes, because I see a lot of men in heels and I don’t buy into this gay agenda”,” said Piferi. “We finished the meeting there.”
The brand’s business is currently 80% wholesale and 20% DTC. Piferi has stocked its heels in unisex sizing since its founding, with its sizes on the DTC site going up to an E.U. men’s size 45.
“I have a lot of customers emailing me and saying that they found their size without having to order customs,” said Piferi. “But it is really necessary to establish the women’s footwear segment before buyers actually give you the credibility to expand into men’s.”
He added, “The ball was a political statement in a way. You’re telling all the world where you’re standing, and sometimes people don’t want to go there.”
Next, to further grow the business, Piferi will be expanding into accessories and entering an online-only retailer.