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Once, I was a fairly red-blooded American male. I watched a lot of football, wore a lot of khaki, and covered my feet with Bass Weejuns.
Then I moved to Milan, where I fell in love -- with shoes.
I realized it was amore when I found myself spending about $350 on a pair at Fratelli Rossetti on Via Montenapoleone, the center of the fashionista universe. The experience of shopping in such a place? Well, let's just say it's nothing like a trip to Fayva.
They were dazzling: two lustrous shades of brown, in a leather so soft I was still fondling them as the saleswoman laid them in their box.
Of course, Italy is full of romance. So despite my affection for the Fratelli Rossetti, my eye soon wandered.
One thing led to another: first Ferragamo, then Bruno Magli, then Tod's. Eventually, I would own two pairs of white Prada loafers, plus some great orange driving shoes.
In fact, I acquired so much footwear by the time I left the country, I felt like the long-lost son of Imelda Marcos.
Love those Manolos
Women have always had their shoe fetishes. Indeed, the names of top women's designers roll off the tongue readily these days. Manolo Blahnik, Stuart Weitzman, and Jimmy Choo are household names, thanks to pop-culture references on "Sex and the City" and "Will and Grace."
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For most men, though, footwear obsession starts and stops with athletic gear. We covet the Nikes of LeBron James, or Bode Miller's Atomic ski boots. But the Venetia leather used in Berluti laceups? Whatever.
That may be changing, at least for some of us.
"Most men have begun to understand what it takes to build a shoe wardrobe, just as they knew what it took to build a wardrobe of suits or sport coats," says Tom Julian, senior trend analyst at Fallon Worldwide.
According to Julian, a new category has been spawned in the past few years: men's accessories.
"Footwear has become very opportunistic for a lot of high-end designers," he says.
Pitching accessories -- shoes, belts and other adornments -- allows the designers to take advantage of new revenue opportunities "that didn't exist before," says Julian. In other words, men are becoming more like women in their interpretation of the necessary components of a fashionable ensemble.
Sure, we'll pay more
Not only are men beginning to appreciate the importance of proper footwear, they may be starting to pay more for a well-shod foot. High style is on its way back.
"We went very athletic, very casual for a number of years," says Michael Atmore, editorial director at Footwear News, the industry's leading trade publication. "It's inevitable that we'd move through those cycles and shift to a different direction."
Atmore cautions that it's still "too early" for hard confirmation of the trend to appear in sales figures. "If it's happening, it's just beginning," he says. "The fall season is going to be interesting to examine how strong the shift will be."
Last month, Footwear News surveyed shoe retailers, who reported a spike in revenues of up to 20 percent. What's more, according to the publication, average price points are rising.
If it's true that men are starting to embrace a higher style shoe, what caused it?
First, there's what Fallon's Julian calls "casualization," the early 1990s loosening of clothing rules at all sorts of companies.
That "made men redefine their wardrobes," said Julian. "It forced them to think about things, because it wasn't enough anymore to just wear a charcoal suit, a white shirt, and black shoes."
More recent influences, both Julian and Atmore agree, have been TV makeover shows as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the men's shopping magazine Cargo, and the celebrity of British soccer star and clotheshorse David Beckham.
"The 'Queer Eye' effect, or the Beckham factor, taught men that good grooming and having a fashion sense are an acceptable and important part of a certain kind of lifestyle," said Julian.
"The TV shows and magazines both confirm and propel the trend," said Atmore. "With the economy improving, and people making more money, it feels like they're beginning to spend more than they have in the past couple of years."
Obviously, that's what the designers are hoping. And, according to Julian, they've been gearing up for it.
"As you go to the big fashion trade shows, you see that in each category, every designer now offers shoes and other accessories as a basic part of the package," he said, speaking to me from one such show, the spring 2005 collections in Florence.
The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.