As the pandemic winds down and we emerge from our Zoom-and-sweatpants-based home offices (okay, our apartment bedrooms), many retailers believe that the trend toward 24/7 casual is here to stay.
Not so, says iconic men’s footwear designer Adam Derrick, creator of the highly regarded To Boot New York line of men’s shoes, boots, and sneakers. Derrick believes that most people want to look sharp and dress up, and retailers who bet against that reality will miss out big time.
“People in the fashion business,” Derrick says, “expect that this trend of casual appearance is just going to take over, but I’m not convinced. Dressing well is an opportunity to feel different, to look different, to stand out in a good way. People have missed expressing their sense of personal style. It’s way too soon to write off the idea of people wanting to be dressed up and looking good. That’s definitely going to come back.”
Some retailers, Derrick says, are betting on casual by reducing their inventory of more formal clothing, but that’s a mistake.
“These stores have gotten rid of all the suits they used to sell,” he says. “They are really paring down their dress shoes. Customers are going into the stores now and trying to find nice things to buy, but they can’t find what they want. I understand that stores had to pare down inventories with traffic down so much.”
“But now that shoppers are coming back, there is a real chance retailers will be disappointing the customer who is looking for good things to buy. It’s going to take those stores a while to build their inventories back up.”
Derrick’s To Boot New York line has been the choice of fashion-conscious celebrities, professionals, and 20-somethings for 30 years. He says that sales across the board of his offerings haven’t missed a beat during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Shoes are a want, not a need,” he says. “It’s not as though people need more shoes. But for men, there are very few ways to express themselves, given the standardized nature of work attire. Shoes are the best way to make a statement. And people who buy To Boot New York often have a dozen or more pairs of our shoes. They think of our shoes as old friends, not just as something to wear.”
“It’s also an opportunity for a man to bring some different character to his wardrobe. You have a basic outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, right? You can’t get more generic than that. But it completely changes the character of jeans and a T-shirt if you are rocking a cool pair of boots with them, or if you have a really kind of sophisticated sneaker in a fun, vibrant color. So without over-thinking it, you can really bring some personality to your style.”
Shoes are also the one non-negotiable in everyone’s wardrobe, Derrick notes.
“In the summer,” Derrick says, “people may wear less, but they always have shoes on! It’s the one thing you can’t do without! So it makes sense that as people are getting their lives back, they’ll be thinking about what they’ll wear on their feet.”
At To Boot New York, Derrick’s role is primarily to design the collection, to meet with the factories creating the samples, to correct the samples, and also to be the voice of the brand. He typically travels to Italy five or six times a year to meet with the artisans who hand-produce his shoes. And although there are only so many changes that you can make to men’s shoe designs, the process never gets old for him.
“Most people who work in the shoe business,” he says, “stay in the shoe business. I love our part of the business because we are working with handmade product and we’re working with artisans. We are working with people who really care about what they are doing and making it beautiful. It’s a pleasure for me to work with like-minded people who want to put out the best possible product.”
Menswear is changing, Derrick notes.
“Guys have a lot more options when it comes to shoes these days,” he says. “Black shoes are back. With brown, you have a myriad of shades. That gives you the most options. But we have started to do really well with grays, blues, and greens, especially in sport shoes and casual shoes.
“Once you get into the sneaker lifestyle, you can have 15 different colors. It becomes like a polo shirt — whatever you want to do, there is a sneaker or a shoe for it. That’s really fun and my customers like that a lot, because they can really change their shoes with their moods and change up their outfits.”
The classics remain the classics, Derrick says, and there’s no reason to change what works.
“I have a shoe called the Forte,” he says, “that is made from just one piece of leather. There is no stitching in it at all, a five eyelet lace up, an elegant, beautiful shoe. There is no way to improve upon that shoe, so I won’t be changing the Forte’s iconic look. When something is just right, there is no point in changing it just for the sake of change.
“There is always something new and fresh you can introduce, so people can buy their classics and then find their fun, on the weekends, or on trips or all those things we are looking forward to doing again.”