THE shoes that walk off with the fashion honors this year are much more eye-catching than the footwear we're accustomed to seeing. They are richly patterned, unconventionally colored, agleam with glossy finishes, and adorned with unusual detailing. Designers have backed away from treating shoes as a purely functional necessity and have raised them to the level of ornaments. The embellishments -- appliqu'es, underlays, and embossing of all sorts, with paisley and flowery motifs the favorites -- are as plentiful as the patterns. Besides printed leather, suede, velvet, and silk, shoe designers have been liberal in their use of damask, brocade, jacquard, and tapestry.
This trend toward highly decorative footwear isn't just for evening. It goes round the clock and extends into a full range of styles, both tailored and dressy. Some of them recall another time and place. Nickels's shoe boot in suede with baroque scrollwork of smooth leather might have stepped out of a Renaissance painting. The court shoe, one of the latest new styles, has a curved-in Louis heel, raised vamp, and ribbon-bow trimming. The inspiration comes from shoes worn by 17th-century noblewomen.
Colorings are rich. Jewel tones in such pairings as ruby and garnet or amethyst and sapphire are used for slippers, pumps, or boots to wear with sleek sports clothes. Bright red or brilliant jade can add zest to an all-black outfit. Wine, forest green, winter pales, earth tones, and a new bright navy are also in the fall-winter spectrum.
Metallics are back, too, having taken a few years' vacation. According to a report from the Footwear Council, the voice of the industry, a wash of metallics covers everything from moccasins and boots to late-day shoes. There are all-over metallics and trims, quarters, or appliqu'es of silver, pewter, gold, bronze.
The opulence heightens as dusk falls, when the foot becomes a luxury object. Rosettes, diamant'e buckles and buttons, and flirtatious bows adorn silks and velvets. A court shoe of rose-colored gold metallic brocade by Paradox is decorated with a full-blown rose. Some of Delman's pumps combine black suede with scrollwork of gold. Heels are generally high for after dark; flat to medium for daytime.
With equestrian looks strong in ready-to-wear, boots are in for all times of day, the riding boot taking the lead. Newest in black patent, it also comes in colored suede and in various tone-on-tone skins. The jodhpur boot is a natural with lean stirrup pants, as every horsewoman knows, and fashion is following the tradition. Other sporty styles -- ghillies, kilties, lace-ups -- are done in such offbeat combinations as pebble-grained leather with a contrasting texture.
A truly beautiful shoe also has lasting value, and some of the new offerings fall into the work-of-art class. Even the most conservative person may find them hard to pass up. She might decide to kick up her heels for a change and plunk down her money on a sumptuous brocade pump.