Celebrating 40 Years As LA’s Landmark Shoe Boutique

by Kavita Daswani

For a space as compact as it is (some 600 square feet of wall-to-wall shoes), Fred Segal Feet has certainly seen a lot of action in its four decades — Lionel Richie stopping by almost every day, Bette Davis in a wheelchair puffing delicately on a cigarette, Barbra Streisand at the front using the store’s phone (something reserved for an elite few).

“Everybody came by,” said Stanley Silver, founder and co-owner with his wife Patti, of the landmark LA shoe boutique. “There were some days it was so packed that even I couldn’t get in.”

For a store that is celebrating its fortieth year in business, there is no sense that Fred Segal Feet has already had its heyday. Indeed, four decades later, the place remains a magnet for shoe buffs who stop by to find the often iconic, otherwise hard- to-find pieces that the Silvers personally pick out. In a retail landscape now cluttered with specialty shoe boutiques, Fred Segal Feet has managed to hold its own, being the first to launch brands and showcase new designers.

Apart from a small store selling San Remo boots, “We really were the first shoe boutique in Los Angeles,” said Silver, reclining on the floor of his comfortable, light-filled Beverly Hills home, a space enriched with sculptures and artwork. He and his wife (the couple have been married 46 years) had moved to the West Coast from Chicago where Silver worked in the men’s wholesale shoe business.

One day, Silver stopped by the Fred Segal boutique on Melrose where he saw the Beatles buying jeans. He immediately had an epiphany: a corner of the property should be dedicated just to shoes, and he should be the person to run it. These were the days before Barney’s and Neiman Marcus when Rodeo Drive had yet to become the retail mecca it now is. People had money but nowhere to spend it. Retail impresario Segal was game, and allotted Silver the space that Fred Segal Feet remains in to this day.

“We started with funky, casual footwear,” recalls Silver, remembering the stacked- heeled platform shoes reminiscent of the time. The business took off quickly, propelled by perks like foot massages given to customers or thank you tokens in the form of lollipops and shoehorns in the shape of feet.

A decade in, Silver asked his wife to join the business, leading a foray into women’s wear. She had been at home raising the couple’s three children, but when theopportunity presented itself to visit Italy and scout for brands, “I cried, and then I went,” she said. Between them, the Silvers introduced LA fashionistas to brands such as Miu Miu, Tod’s and Stephane Kelian. Over the years, there have been crazes – the store would sell about 100 pairs of Zodiac’s Indian moccasins every Saturday and every last pair of Nike limited edition collections.

“I’m always still looking for new brands,” said Patti Silver. “They have to be exciting, original, affordable.” At the last adjective, she hesitates for a second. There might be $65 flip-flops on offer, but there are also $6,000 boots. A new offering, from emerging avant-garde designer Raphael Young is priced at $1,000 a pop.

“The more expensive pairs are selling slowly,” said Patti Silver, addressing the new reality of high-end retail. “People are more conservative. But there are some who still say, ‘I love it. I don’t care what it costs.’”

Much of the store’s current business, while still steeped in celebrity, is becoming more international. An Australian tourist stopped in and spent $2,000 on a pair of boots; a woman from Mumbai bought fourteen pairs of $200 Pradas for her young daughter. Silver himself keeps an eye out for anything sparkly and glittery for Elton John, a regular customer. And a new shoe-and-bag-of-the-month offering is generating buzz in all the right circles.