Leather flooring, oak panels, swish sofas that wouldn't look out of place in an expensive hotel: the new men's shoe department in London's flagship Selfridges store clearly means business.
Part of a major revamp of the entire Selfridges menswear floor, the new shoe section will sell more than 3,000 styles, from bespoke Tom Ford boots to £25 flip-flops. It will be the biggest men's shoe department in world, and its unveiling this week will bring with it more than a staggering 72,000 pairs of shoes – it also heralds a new era for the way men shop for fashion.
Arranged across 10,000 square feet, the Selfridges shoe department has been designed by Belgian architect Vincent van Duysen and includes a made-to-order salon featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors. Its carefully manicured design reflects a growing desire among male consumers for high-end, avant-garde fashion.
"It's an incredibly exciting time," says David Walker-Smith, director of menswear for Selfridges. "The introduction of London Collections [men's fashion week] has been an important step forward for the industry and shines a spotlight on British fashion."
Exclusive products by a diverse mix of labels, from Versace to Dr Martens, will go on sale while in early 2013, while the first Christian Louboutin boutique for men will also open there. Directional fashion, from leggings to £3,000 cashmere coats, is also doing a surprisingly swift trade on the shopfloor. Adam Kelly, buying manager for men's designer wear, says "There is definitely a demand for more catwalk fashion," he says. "We now get customers coming in with catwalk images from style.com and telling us which pieces they want to buy from the collections."
It's a trend that extends beyond the looming walls of the central London department store. "We have definitely spotted the rise of an increasingly fashion-literate men's customer, who follows the runways and comes into the store knowing what the key pieces for the season are," says Stacey Smith, menswear buyer for high-end boutique Matches.
At online menswear store Mr Porter, the personal shopping team receive emails from customers straight after fashion shows expressing interest in looks they spotted on the catwalk. Buying manager Terry Betts reports that in 18 months of trading, Mr Porter has seen the emergence of a new "really strong fashion guy."
"Historically in menswear, the catwalk pieces were the dressing and the majority of the sales came from the more classic things," he explains. "But we've noticed that there is a customer who wants the really visual pieces from the shows."
Balenciaga's knitwear, Givenchy catwalk sweatshirts and Jil Sander's whale jumper have all been recent hits. Mr Porter re-ordered the Sander knit due to a waiting list. These catwalk pieces have become "some of highest grossing items and we have sold them in volume", says Betts.
The proliferation of fashion online has been integral to this boom. "Real fashion being worn by real men, making trends more accessible," is how Jessica Punter of GQ sums up why men's style blogs such as Tommy Ton are so popular.
Betts believes menswear collections have also improved. "Collections are stronger and designers are braver in terms of fabrics and colour," he says. "The customer is also more informed – catwalk shows used to be quite elitist, but now there is just more access, whether it's live-streaming shows or seeing the pictures online soon after the show."
Luxury brands are also investing in menswear. Burberry, who reports that during the last financial year men's accessories were the fastest growing area of its business while sales of men's tailoring doubled, opened its first UK standalone men's store in Knightsbridge this week. Alexander McQueen has just opened a new menswear space on Savile Row ahead of showing its men's mainline collection for the first time in the capital in January during the second London fashion week for men. Response from industry insiders to the inaugural event, which took place in June, has been positive. And it has been a commercial success too. "All the designers we've seen or spoken to since have seen a massive uptake in their books so it really has paid off," says Punter.
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