September 2, 2011 10:12 pm

The penny loafer drops

Flat or heeled, polished or embellished, the preppy shoe is back
Ponyskin loafers by GH Bass & Co and Tod’s autumn/winter heeled loafers

Ponyskin loafers by GH Bass & Co (top) and Tod’s autumn/winter heeled loafers

Back to school” is, for many of us, a term ripe with certain uniform associations: plaid skirts, grey trousers, white button-downs, and, for male and female alike, the penny loafer. It’s almost Pavlovian how, come September, not-so-young men and women’s thoughts turn to certain footwear. And this season, women’s wear designers from Stella McCartney to Rupert Sanderson, Lanvin, Martin Margiela, Tory Burch, Chloé and Balenciaga have figured it out.

“We are noticing an increasing desire from women for loafers, such as Pierre Hardy’s reinterpretation of the original boat loafers,” says Leonardo Girombelli, fashion director of e-tailer thecorner.com.

“With the return to old-world workmanship and classic styles with modern twists came a new fascination with men’s-style footwear for women,” says Monica Blanch Wells of Hong Kong-based Pedder Group, the accessories retailer and sister company to Lane Crawford and Joyce.

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At Bottega Veneta, creative director Tomas Maier has designed a new offering of women’s loafers for autumn – a first for the label – after being inundated with requests from female clients who loved and bought the men’s version. The loafer, made of supple spritz suede, has a slimmer silhouette, a gently rounded toe and the brand’s trademark intrecciato (a leather-weaving technique) on the front. Tommy Hilfiger has launched a limited-edition collection of men’s and women’s loafers in collaboration with classic American brand GH Bass & Co. The collection updates the “Weejuns” penny loafer, which first appeared in 1936. Women’s styles – which start at £199 – include high-heeled polished loafers, masculine flats in polished leather or ponyskin, and come with a coloured penny to slot into the front. Tod’s autumn/winter heeled loafers come in different colours and finishes, from black leather to zebra pony hair and leopard (from £320). Christian Louboutin has introduced a new slipper-like loafer hand-embroidered by the couture atelier Lesage.

Roopal Patel, senior market accessories editor for Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, says: “After so much emphasis on the ballerina as the go-to flat option, the loafer seems like the new alternative to polish up that casual look. While it still carries a very preppy, men’s wear connotation, it’s taken on a new, cool-girl vibe.”

Loafers are also more weatherproof than ballerinas, not to mention comfortable. Even most of the high versions come with chunky block heels, which are sturdier than stilettos or platforms. Indeed, according to Laura Vinroot Poole, owner of Capitol boutique in Charlotte, North Carolina, comfort is a big factor. She says her clients are coming out in droves for loafers – particularly those by Tabitha Simmons, Lanvin and Céline – and that “after years of amped-up, mega-mean platform heels, there is great relief in actually being able to walk a few blocks without a blister. [The return of the loafer] has been a life-changer to everybody, young and old.”

Perhaps this is also why Dr Suzanne Levine, a noted Manhattan-based podiatric surgeon who caters to a Who’s Who of bankers, lawyers and financiers, says that, post-recession, her high-net worth patients are starting to think in terms of the potential injuries stilettos can inflict – and ways to avoid costly problems.

“Loafers feel fresh again and they’re a shoe you don’t have to build outfits around, since they go with just about anything,” says designer Tabitha Simmons. Ed Burstell, managing director at Liberty, agrees, noting: “The loafer works perfectly with the new mannish tailored dressing. There is a move away from the rather vulgar super-high, platform-heavy silhouette to one of more relaxed elegance – think Hepburn, Dietrich and Patti Smith.”

Not that loafers are limited to low-key or androgynous looks, however. Holli Rogers, buying director at Net-a-Porter, says: “Masculine shoes are the perfect antidote to the pleats, chiffons and silks that are in abundance this season.” There’s nothing uniform about that.

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The right trousers

Understanding which variety of trousers to team with a pair of loafers is crucial. Laura Vinroot Poole of Capitol boutique in North Carolina, US, suggests cropped men’s wear-inspired trousers, while Net-a-Porter’s Holli Rogers recommends pairing loafers with a super-luxe T-shirt and rolled-up slim chinos for everyday wear, and a denim shirt dress for the weekend. Straight trousers can work with flat or heeled loafers, but ultra-skinny or cigarette versions require a more delicate court loafer, featuring a fine heel and a pointy or almond-shaped toe.

To channel the 1970s in high-waisted flared wool trousers or jeans – perhaps teamed with a silk blouse – it’s essential to add height with chunky heeled loafers such as those by Tommy Hilfiger or Tod’s.

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