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Embellishments are small and classy. There are sequins, rhinestones and pearls. There are pinked edges and perfed leathers. There are fringes, either in a Western mode or distressed and ripped from the 70's Hippie era. And, there are embroidered Japanese figures and molded vinyl flowers. The only enhancement that is not small is the bow, which is placed on a strappy upper and stretches the width of the foot.

Despite tiny heels and super strappy silhouettes, comfort has become the underlying principle of the footwear business. Customers at both ends of the age spectrum - the aging baby boomers looking for foot health for the first time, and the junior customer who is used to her ultra-casual stomper boots-now demand fashion appeal without the loss of comfort. The orthopedic shoe has evolved into a strappy sandal with flex bottoms, cushioned insoles, zip fronts and Velcro attachments. And comfort must be visible, with see-through techno-bottoms, broader footbeds and removable inserts.

Euro-comfort is stronger than ever, with footwear boasting not only a myriad of fasteners, closing systems and treatments but also embracing such current fashion trends, as the use of color, updated exotic materials and such silhouettes as slings, asymmetrical toes and Mary Janes.

While women's designers meet fashion head on, men's styles are more subtle, providing varying shades of fashion. But fashion has progressed for men too - just a few years ago sandals were taboo; now clogs have now become a traditional silhouette for men. Other more interesting silhouettes include the wallaby, bowler and backless slip-on with such features as big buckles, whip stitching, and elastic treatments.

Black and brown are still the dominate colors in men's dress shoes, but burgundy and taupe are starting to creep into the picture with a few touches of red and blue. But active casual, now the strongest men's footwear category, goes to color extremes from black trail runners to dressed up blue amphibious styles. Newer men's sports shoes include high performance street shoes, sport sandals, and waterproof trail and trek boots. The young men's market is still on the move, offering oversized looks that combine big bottoms with classic uppers such as the oxford, the boat shoe, open toes dress sandals and New York-bred street shoes.

Nowhere is color more important than in children's shoes, where brights, pastels, and whites prevail for Spring 2001. While women's shoes are now pared-down feminine, girl's shoes are either baby-sweet or take downs from the teen market (with clear vinyl, strappy mules with big flowers, pink fur, slides and leopard skin dyed blue, pink and yellow). Dress-up shoes for girls are shiny patent leather in baby blue, pink and white in Mary Jane's (of course) - but also the more updated mule. And shoe companies offer the matching handbags in black, white and pink patent leather or floral print fabric to match little floral print sneaks.

From old to young, shoes for Spring 2001 are a return to styles gone by. This season, footwear will be flatter, rounder, sleeker, slimmer and feminine with brightness and shine coming from sequined embellishments, gold fabrications and patented leather.


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