Best foot forward

Heels are down, line are sleek and delicate, colors are rich, metallic are big, details are discreetly decorative, and boots are back. Shoes, as that encapsulated view of fall footwear may hint, cover a lot of fashion ground this season. They encompass the mix of current trends: cavalier, Renaissance, thoroughbred, folkloric, and other eclectic styles.

Besides the return of the boot, shoe news centers around some unusual forms of ornamentation: bows at the back, for instance, or heraldic motifs underlaid at the top of the vamp. High-fashion shoppers have already made a beeline for the bronze pointed-toe pump with the little underslung heel. Just about every designer on both sides of the ocean showed it with his or her fall collections, and for those is pursuit of hautem chic it is an essential acquisition. Others may consider the snakeskin pump with the same V-shaped vamp and low heel to be a must. The advantage of both pumps is that they are shoes for all occasions.

Nearly everyone sits up at the mention of boots -- and right they are. Although boots have not been a big priority for a while, they will be practically indispensable this year.

The ones that are already in the closet will only do if they are cowboy or riding boots. These classics are holding their own with the sort of Santa Fe Western gear proposed by Ralph Lauren and with well-bred, tweedy clothes from sportswear specialists like J. G. Hook.

But the very latest boot is unfamiliar. Flat-heeled or low-heeled, ankle-high (with turn-down cuff, as a rule), and fashioned of soft pliant kidskin or suede, it is often more like a shoe than a boot. Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chloe in Paris, calls his version of the lightweight, supple new footgear a "glove boot." Worn with dark-textured tights that are toned in with the outfit, a low-cuffed boot is the logical complement to the derring-do and/or romantic looks we will be seeing.

As to the rest of the picture, new shapes take two directions, according to the Footwear Council, a national association of leading shoemakers. There is the squared-off toe on a broader low heel, and there is the oval toe with a slender high heel. Little curved Louis heels, a lam the court of Versailles, are alternatives to higher dressy heels. even kiltie flats and ballet shoes have been updated and now appear in woven, pearlized, or metallic leathers, sometimes in two-color combinations.

This year's colors are deep and rich -- eggplant, taupe, khaki, slate, russet brown -- and are frequently picked up with accents of bronze or gunmetal piping. Ornamental touches are often concentrated on what shoemakers call a "plug" (a rounded insert across the top of the vamp) and may consist of stenciling, metallic underlays, peasant embroideries, or flat fur.

Other fancy touches include buckles and bows, trapunto, pinking, quilting, scroll motifs, and scalloping, which often gives a lift to the footline by being extended to a crest at the back of boots or shoes. Backs, it is worth noting, are sometimes more interesting than front views. One of the prettiest pumps, Charles Jourdan's high-heeled black suede, for example, has a flat silver kid bow appliqued at the top of its sling back.

Thus, opulence goes from head to toe and, in some cases, is unseen. In their enthusiasm for richesse,m shoemakers have given many shoes linings of gold, bronze, or silver, which will surely wear off. An extravagant gesture you might call inconspicuous waste.

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