Sole Asylum: NYC Shoe Shopping

Christina Parrella

Getting around New York City requires two things: a sense of direction and a great pair of shoes. And no ordinary pair will do for NYC women. In this town, it's practically a requirement to wear shoes that are both comfortable enough to last an eight-hour workday and that will turn heads. Luckily, there's no shortage of stores in the City that offer such wares, which makes shopping for footwear a pleasure.

For starters, you'll find a wide selection of affordable shoes at a number of department stores in the City, including Lord & Taylor, which specializes in comfortable and classic styles, and Macy's Herald Square, with its 39,000-square-foot devoted emporium in which any shoe lover could get lost for a few hours. Fans of high-end brands such as Gucci, Giuseppe Zanotti and Tom Ford should head to Barneys, Bloomingdale's and Bergdorf Goodman, where shoes are displayed like works of art.

But the mecca that outshines them all is Saks Fifth Avenue, where an entire floor is dedicated to fancy footwear. Known for having its own custom zip code—10022-SHOE, in case you feel like mailing them a mash note—the floor carries brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Miu Miu and Christian Louboutin. The last of these is displayed in a 1,600-square-foot shop-in-shop, Louboutin's largest one in the world. In other words, you should probably clear out room in your closet now.

Read on for more information, or visit our Pinterest board to satisfy your shoe-shopping needs.

Photo: Marley White

Jimmy Choo
716 Madison Ave., Upper East Side, 212-759-7078
It only took a short time for Jimmy Choo to become a household name. Founded in the mid-1980s, his company was soon producing footwear sported by red-carpet royalty. The brand is known for its subtle glamour and timeless designs, highlighted in the form of patent stiletto pumps, ladylike peep toes and sandals with the just the right amount of sparkle.

Customer: Classic fashionistas; lucky brides
Signature shoe: Abel, a perfect pointy-toe stiletto; Michelle Obama is a fan.
Price range: $375–$3,250

Photo: Marley White

Manolo Blahnik
31 W. 54th St., Midtown West, 212-582-3007
Although Manolo Blahnik skyrocketed to widespread acclaim in the late 1990s (thanks in no small part to a little television show called Sex and the City), the designer's high-end handcrafted heels have long been coveted the world over. Starting in the '70s, his shoes became popular with the likes of Jane Birkin and Bianca Jagger; later on, Princess Diana favored Blahnik's styles. Even so, the brand remained relatively under the radar until the grunge era, when Madonna famously said that Blahnik's shoes were as good as sex—only they last longer. The label has been name-dropped in songs by Jay Z and RuPaul and these days is known just as much for its status as it is for its styles.

Customer: Madison Avenue moms
Signature shoe: The BB pump
Price range: $495–$2,050

Courtesy, Charlotte Olympia

Charlotte Olympia
22 E. 65th St., Upper East Side, 212-744-1842
What do you get when you mix an old Hollywood vibe with campy images and colors? Designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal's self-titled shoe label, naturally. The line, which launched in 2006, seemingly has no rules: seasonal collections are inspired by girlie themes such as mermaids, kittens and zodiac signs, and heels often measure over five inches, with platform toes that rise an inch and a half. Dellal's favorite book is the heartbreaking work of arachnid-loving genius, Charlotte's Web; as a result, her soles feature a golden spiderweb design.

Customer: Acolytes of author E. B. White
Signature shoe: The sky-high Dolly platform
Price range: $495–$2,000

Photo: Ty Cole

Christian Louboutin
965 Madison Ave., Upper East Side, 212-396-1884
Chances are that if you're walking into a Christian Louboutin boutique, you know exactly what you want. That's because most customers—first-timers or not—covet Louboutins for weeks or even months, saving up enough cash for a pair of those signature red-bottomed beauties. The mere sight of a Louboutin design leaves a lasting impression, not least thanks to the soles. The color was intended to attract men (whom the designer says are like bulls, and "cannot resist the red sole"), but it seems to have worked just as well on both genders. Whether platform peep toes, ballerina flats or spiked stilettos, every pair of Louboutins is a head turner—even if the shoes are notoriously uncomfortable.

Customer: Power-suited Bond villains
Signature shoe: The hard-to-get Pigalle pump
Price range: $595–$3,095

Courtesy, Schutz

655 Madison Ave., Upper East Side, 646-561-3561
At the Brazilian brand's only stand-alone store in the US, shoppers will discover looks that are anything but run of the mill. The daring label is known for its quality as well as its flashy designs, like high heels that lace all the way up the calf. Other shoes feature the sort of styles you'd expect from a Brazilian line: think candy-colored strappy sandals, Western-style boots and flats, and heels embellished with dazzling crystals.

Customer: Bottle-service party girls
Signature shoe: The lace-up Emanuelle heel
Price range: $140–$500

Photo: Marley White

Pierre Hardy
30 Jane St., West Village, 646-449-0070
If you've had your fill of the basic black pump, then Pierre Hardy is the brand for you. The Parisian shoemaker, who has crafted collections for Dior and Balenciaga, draws on elements of art and architecture in his designs and builds around a core graphic in each collection. The result is an abstract shoe featuring everything from color blocking and mixed media to sharp lines and geometric shapes. This season, bright-colored eyes adorn his shoes.

Customer: Pop art devotees
Signature shoe: The prd_id=845524446725942&R=3608830757384&P_name=Pierre+Hardy&sid=149103D07F28&Ntt=pierre+hardy&N=0&bmUID=kAg9_NB" target="_blank">bi-color pump
Price range: $325–$1,495

Photo: Marley White

Salvatore Ferragamo
655 Fifth Ave., Midtown East, 212-759-3822
When it comes to quality shoemaking, Salvatore Ferragamo has long been renowned as one of the best. The brand is responsible for some of the most famous shoes in the world—among them Judy Garland's ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz and Marilyn Monroe's open-toed slingbacks from The Seven Year Itch. Today the line offers leather loafers, heels, booties and wedges in understated styles. Ferragamo's polished sophistication is evident in heels with bows, mildly elevated wedges and ballerina flats fashioned from richly colored leather.

Customer: Working girls
Signature shoe: The Varina flat
Price range: $270–$925

Courtesy, Nicholas Kirkwood

Nicholas Kirkwood
807 Washington St., West Village, 646-559-5239
Nicholas Kirkwood's allure is in his creativity. Championed by the late Isabella Blow, the British shoe designer founded his brand in 2005, setting out to create a statement shoe line the way Alexander McQueen had done for apparel. The result: architecturally crafted designs, sculpted with intricate and quirky details. Using exotic animal skins, acetate panels, glitter, leather and lace, Kirkwood's towering heels are anything but practical.

Customer: Sci-fi "It" girls; the Rodarte sisters
Signature shoe: Laser-cut ankle booties
Price range: $395–$2,300

Photo: Marley White

United Nude
25 Bond St., NoHo, 212-420-6000
Popular overseas, United Nude strikes a balance between architecture and design, bringing artfully made shoes to women who dare to don towering—sometimes hazardous—heels. The main collection showcases a variety of futuristic styles: designs include cantilevered wedges, elastic booties that form to your foot and colorful, work-friendly flats and sandals. But it's the limited-edition collections that really define the brand. For example, the Rem D. Koolhaas–designed Nova—a shoe best described as intergalactic, made from vinyl, rubber, fiberglass and leather.

Customer: Barbarella
Signature shoe: The Fold Hi bootie
Price range: $120–$2,000