This fall, accessories designers are waging war against that dreaded fashion scourge -- the boring shoe. Their weapons of choice? Everything from courtly brocade mules to prim pony slingbacks to sexy stiletto boots. Whether you fancy a dainty satin-and-beading kind of thing or something tougher and hard-edged, take a walk through these boutiques. You're guaranteed to please both your insteps and your imagination, because this year, there's almost too much to choose from.
650 Madison Avenue, near 60th Street (212-644-5945)
Good news for those with a fear of heights: Diego Della Valle's bright, airy five-month-old flagship boutique is packed with sidewalk-friendly shoes that won't leave you looking flat and tired. The core collection of loafers and driving moccasins is gussied up in colorful suede and pony; boot shapes range from flat molded-leather ankle styles to knee-high riding versions (and they come in the same fetching fabrics).
* Cube-soled green leather loafer, $325.
* Pony loafers, $550.
* Olive-green pony riding boots, $895.
31 West 54th Street (212-582-3007)
Enough said about the Stiletto King's evergreen slingbacks (diehards drone on about how they define even the flabbiest calves and are "comfortable" to pop around in). Most of us won't plunk down $400 for shoes that will spend the day hidden in a cubicle, but for glamorous nights on the town, know that even the wackiest evening styles here will look spot-on for many, many seasons. This season, Blahnik's most mouthwatering creations are, of course, in pony skin.
* Camel pony stiletto mules with brown mink trim, $685.
* Red pony slingbacks, $515.
* Chocolate-brown lace-side stiletto boots, $1,150.
941 Madison Avenue, near 74th Street (212-396-1884)
New Yorkers are still learning to pronounce his name correctly, but Christian Louboutin's old news to the kind of Parisian party girl who cringes at the thought of day-to-evening footwear (and who doesn't have to worry that the pretty red soles on these shoes will get scuffed on the subway). The evening mule is where Louboutin lavishes most of his couture-style design sense, and the most delectable are in splashy fabrics: navy brocade, blue-and-lilac-striped silk, even plastic-covered collages of Louboutin's own travel souvenirs.
* Blue-and-lilac-striped silk mules, $350.
* Plastic-covered-collage mules, $310.
* Black suede T-strap stilettos, $470.
158 Mercer Street (212-925-3077)
While still popular with wedgie wearers, longtime tastemaker Stephane Kelian is once again catering to the true footwear fetishist -- and there's no doubting that his lean, mean, racy shoes and boots will hold their own with the season's sharpest clothes. Ankle-strap pumps and knee-high boots have a fascinating thick set-back stiletto heel. Heights vary from sensible to vertiginous. Aim high -- the effect's worth feeling a little giddy.
* Chocolate-brown knee-high stiletto boots, $695.
* Copper embossed-leather ankle-strap pumps, $385.
* Cream lace-up oxfords with black lug soles, $280.
765 Madison Avenue, near 65th Street (212-988-4877)
Via Spiga spoils twentysomething tourists and East Side Euro types with lots and lots of chic, youthful shoes that don't cost a fortune. The store's current preppy-schoolgirl-ish collection has plenty of old faves -- classic loafers, riding boots, and kitten-heeled slingbacks -- but they're dressed up in vibrant colors and of-the-moment fabrics that won't make you feel like you're back in the lunchroom.
* Red calfskin loafers with pewter buckles, $170.
* Open-toed evening slides with black-and-white beading, $158.
* Brown leather riding boots with lug soles, $305.
242 Mott Street (212-625-1641)
Sigerson Morrison is carrying on with the slingbacks, kitten-heeled pumps, square-toed ballet flats, and skinny boots that keep the younger set streaming downtown after lunch at La Goulue. In a nod to current trends, the design team is producing its classic styles in a handful of the season's most coveted fabrics and colors, including pony skin and metallic finishes.
* Wine pony slingbacks with stiletto heels, $356.
* Silver mules with pointed toes, $254.
* Black post-heel high boots, $403.
45 Spring Street (212-343-9292)
Mark Schwartz opened his first shop last August in NoLIta, but he's no newcomer to high-end shoemaking -- his résumé includes fifteen years' experience with stars like Richard Tyler and Roger Vivier. For his own collection, Schwartz starts with the sleek, modern shapes you'd expect, then takes a detour into the unexpected -- say, a Lucite sling on a pony pump or whipstitched seams on a pair of boots.
* Python ankle-tie stilettos with Sabrina heels, $295.
* Giraffe-print high-heeled pony sandals with plastic slingbacks, $280.
* Black lace-front stiletto boots with black beading, $595.
702 Madison Avenue, near 63rd Street (212-759-3910)
Uptown hipsters with downtown fantasies stop in for shoes that are groovy enough for lunch at Cafe Gitane but still hint at oh-so-correct Zip Codes. For fall, Cox offers up his predictable dose of mod (think go-go ankle boots and pumps with severely squared-off toes) in sharp black, white, orange, and fuchsia combos. But he keeps the mood fancy with the occasional sharp, rectangular metal heel or a touch of mohair.
* Orange leather loafer, $205.
* Silver satin mule with rosette appliqué and upturned toe, $332.
* Black ankle boots with cutaway dot details, $450.
628 Madison Avenue, at 59th Street (212-751-9082)
You know Bally's core business -- endless variations on the sensible ballet flats, loafers, or pumps that pack in the regulars season after season. What you've probably forgotten is Bally's knack for keeping alive key, moneyed styles from the past that make an occasional comeback -- like leather boots with tapered wooden heels that would look right-on with your kick-pleated A-line skirt.
* Ankle boots with side buckles, $325.
* Black napa-leather flat loafers with asymmetric toes, $195.
* Olive cascara cowboy boots, $470.
675 Fifth Avenue, at 53rd Street (212-319-6893)
If you're looking to sweep your closet of those boring black mules (just so last season!) and refill it with current trends, cab it here and you'll still have some cash left for clothes. This season's stock includes plenty of pony, flannel, faux python, and beading. There are dozens of boots to try on -- and virtually everything's well under $200.
* Leopard-print kitten-heel mules, $65.
* Brown leather cowboy boots with cow-print pony uppers, $169.
* Leather square-toed ankle boots with two-inch heels, $115.