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Lela, Is That You?

September 30, 2007|Melissa Magsaysay | Times Staff Writer

KARL LAGERFELD at H&M? Check. Proenza Schouler at Target? Check. Lela Rose at Payless Shoesource? Now, there's a head scratcher.

Designers collaborating with mass-market retailers is nothing new, but some pairings are more surprising than others, and the dark horse in the race to win over the mainstream is the ubiquitous, help-yourself shoe store Payless Shoesource. Five seasons ago, Payless began with the first of its up-and-coming designer recruits, Abaeté. Now, Payless has added Lela Rose for the current fall season and coming for spring 2008, Alice & Olivia.

The strip-mall locale of many Payless stores -- and the orange and yellow logo -- radiate a less than glamorous attitude, but given the stylish shoes they are churning out these days Payless could go from a name too embarrassing to mention, to a name worth bragging about. And with shoes for less than $30, maybe this is the best place to take your style risks.

Abaeté designer Laura Poretzky is a Payless veteran, but her shoes have not been as stylish as this fall's collection. She's spun an art deco feel into square-toe satin, color-blocked flats and a little bit of mod into black-patent boots with a Lucite heel. But it is the Flavin pump that has what it takes to convince the fashion-savvy shopper. The Flavin has simple thick-crossed straps, a slight platform and an inverted cone heel. An of-the-moment and wearable shoe for $19.99? Why not?

Lela Rose, who is known for her prim skirts and tailored dresses, popular with the Upper East Side set, spins this same aesthetic into her Payless line. She sticks to the conservative with tweed pumps and flats, even working some turn-of-the-century details such as spat-style buttons on the side of an ankle boot and a feminine bow at the closure of a T-strap pump. Rose's style is a lot less daring than Poretzky's, making the shoes more appropriate for the office than a nightclub.

If the last time you stepped foot in a Payless was during your back-to-school shopping days, fear not the towering shelves. Yes, the designer shoes are sprinkled among the civilian styles in true democratic fashion -- in the rows and rows of stacked shelves separated by nothing more than a size marker. But they are easy to spot: Just look on the side of the shoe box, where the designer's name is printed, to find them. Otherwise, most look the same from the top of an open box.

Although most of the labels read "man-made materials," the shoes are surprisingly comfortable. After several laps around the store, both the Flavin and Audrey pump from Abaeté seemed like they wouldn't be blister-inducing after an hour of wear. All day could be a different story, but considering the money saved on the shoes, there'll be funds to stock up on Band-Aids and extra padding.


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