Bespoke shoemakers are cashing in on the growing demand for exclusive, good-quality women's shoes, fuelled by celebrity devotees such as Kate Moss and Freida Pinto. With sky-high heels de rigueur on Britain's streets, women are resorting to expensive measures to make their feet stand out from the crowd.
"This is a slow-burn trend which is going to continue to grow," said Jacqui Ma of trend forecasting agency WGSN. "It is part of the shift towards people buying fewer things, but better quality." Market researcher Mintel predicts that the UK footwear market will grow to £7.6bn by 2010, up 17 per cent since 2006.
"I'm definitely seeing more young women," said bespoke shoe-maker Caroline Groves. "It used to be women coming in who had foot problems, but now they are younger women who have had lots of designer shoes but want something longer lasting with more character." Ms Groves's creations, which involve measuring the feet and several fittings, cost from £1,600 to £2,500 a pair and take eight weeks to make.
Shoemaker T&F Slack rolled out its custom-made shoe service this summer, while Italian designer Alessandro Oteri says bespoke orders account for 30 per cent of the business.
"The design talents making bespoke and made-to-order shoes now are chic, rather than the sensible approach that used to exist," said Harriet Quick, fashion features editor of Vogue.
Big-name designers are introducing made-to-order services which allow customers to choose the colour, style and fabric of their shoes, rather than offering the made-to-measure service of bespoke designers. British designer Rupert Sanderson, whose clients include Kristin Scott Thomas, runs a made-to-order service. For £3,495, customers can order Mr Sanderson's classic Winona court in a variety of coloured crocodile skins. The shoe, worn by Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto, comes with a lifetime guarantee, but costs 10 times the £350 a similar pair would cost in-store.
The veteran shoe designer Terry de Havilland also launched a custom shoe business for women this year. The shoes, which are worn by Kate Moss, start at £600, for which customers can choose the shape of the shoe, colour and any embellishments.
"The threshold on what people spend on shoes has gone through the roof," said Ms Quick. "They have raised the bar on what a shoe is; with height, skins and embellishment, so that is factored into the price."