Feet are going to be warm and cosy next winter. Fur, both real and synthetic, was all around at the latest GDS shoe fair in Germany, on the inside and outside of shoes as well as boots, writes Penny Leese.

Although the atmosphere at GDS, the world's biggest shoe fair, was pretty dismal in many halls, the organisers had done their very best to entice customers to the event. Lots of fashion shows, good presentation, and free public transport for visitors made the fair a pleasant place to visit.

Previously, GDS was very strong in areas such as young casual, kids and "wellness" - the German buzzword for comfort. But the fashionable sporty labels have been seduced away by trendier mixed fashion and shoe fairs such as the hugely successful Bread and Butter (Berlin), and the dressy Italian-type top end brands were hit by the overlap with MICAM - with those not having the resources to show at both simultaneously choosing Italy instead.

While GDS was quiet, with fewer visitors in the branded halls and large empty areas that were converted to "rest areas," MICAM (the competing Italian fair) was buzzing. The Italians now have to build a new hall to fit the increased number of exhibitors.

Struggling economy
The German retail economy is struggling, and the mood at the fair was down. Restrictive retail opening and closing times combined with legislation to protect workers does not encourage customers into the shoe shops.

The classic German retail shoe business is in the doldrums - Salamander's bankruptcy did not help - and this could be clearly seen in the almost empty children's hall.

While there were only two halls with high fashion shoes, the three halls with imported shoes, national stands and cheaper merchandise were full of exhibitors. The national German fair is going down-market. It is becoming more of an international than a national show with more visitors from the former Eastern Bloc.

GDS remains a strong magnet for British visitors though, with Firetrap, there for the first time, reporting that it had seen all its major British customers.

But exhibitors did their best to freshen up the offers, with lots of eye-catching looks for next winter. There are plenty of fresh and rich colours and unusual materials - and masses of fur. The big trend for next winter is Eskimo/Red Indian inspired, with real fur on the outside of the boots, most practically on the shafts, Mukluk style.

Real rabbit fur and pompons on the shaft, crepe rubber soles and moccasin stitching on the vamp, and beading create the look. All sorts of suede boots with fur legs are going to be big for ladies and kids. Fur top collars on elegant flat boots by Snipe in lime green on sporty soles still look ladylike. There are even fur edgings and trims on jogger soles by Kangaroos.

Cow or pony hair appears in natural shades, with the uneven brown and off-white patchy colours used as part of the design on the shafts of low fashion boots.

Knitted cuffs in stripes gave a warm feeling to Art's red leather stitchdown boots. In fact all sorts of wool are good, with tweed and leather combinations popular at all levels, even for classic Chanel-style pumps with little heels by German comfort brand Gabor.

Booted up
Boots are the big trend for next year, especially long leather boots with inside zips. German retailers have finally got onto the cowboy bandwagon, and Frye boots are standard.

Newer are more glamorous cowboy-inspired boots in soft leathers with suede slouch legs in muted colours like old rose. From NC, a Portuguese company which now sources its men's and women's fashion line from Brazil, there are slouchy interwoven Brazilian boots in soft brown natural look leathers.

The Brazilian look is coming on strong, with suppliers like Bronx switching from China for the latest fashion boots to a more natural leather look from Brazil. Both wedge and cowboy heels are fashionable on boots, but the new bottoms are made of wood.

This summer's clog bottoms are updated with cow hair uppers, or even appliqué flowers on the attaching studs. Interwoven leather vamps and suede with fur linings update simple clog styles from Bronx. There are also colourful boot versions of clogs in bright suedes like lime and teal, or metallic faded leathers, but most popular in cow hair.

The Ugg boot phenomenon is not going away; they now have openwork knitted feet and legs in brilliant cool cotton colours like turquoise - just in time fashion from Bronx.

Mixed materials are everywhere on the new boots, often with a natural leather foot part and textile shaft - in canvas from Timberland on a long boot. Tweed in all its versions is popular, both bright Chanel-type tweed and newer more natural beige and brown mixes. Salt and pepper or herringbone are mixed with leather; Journey had a brown Prince of Wales check long leg boot on a natural brown leather foot.

Dressy shoes
Pretty and feminine is the watchword for dressy shoes, with a 30s party feel. Round toes and curvy heels, feminine spat buttons, floppy bows on boots, and cut-outs on retro T-bars from Vagabond.

Moccasins, both flat and on little kitten heels, keep on going strong in a choice of rainbow colours, often decorated with hand stitching and even multi-coloured diamantes at Bronx. Not only gold, but bright colours, ethnic features and metallic details made the shoes everything but "safe."

Unusual colour combinations such as pink with brown caught the eye at Kangaroos. For winter there is white - winter white leather snow joggers with pale blue fur. White is for men's shoes too, such as on cracked leather loafers at Vagabond.

For men, there is fur too. Journey's men's leather vulcanised styles have fur lining, maybe a bit advanced but already ordered by directional London shoe chains like Office.

Stay at home is a "sleeper" trend with more established companies like Camel Active showing slippers with a twist; its are made from pure felt, with trendy raw edges, stitched out on a square toe and flat sole - more a packable fashion statement than an indoor shoe.

Elegant men's shoes come in smooth but more natural looking leathers, with hand stitching details and blind seaming. Men today want more interesting shoes and bright coloured linings like the ones by NC attract customers - but since they are not visible from the outside cannot upset employers.

Making an effort for kids
For kids, factories are really making an effort. Little girls are still very "Barbie" minded and pink still rules - but fuchsia is now mixed with other colours like lime and yellow, as at trendsetting kid's shoe and clothes designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

But mainstream German shoes are not to be forgotten; there is a big gap left in the market after the closure of Elefanten by Clarks. Legero has a cute slipper collection designed by the ex-Elefanten designer, with pretty flower soles on a narrower last especially for girls and uppers decorated with feminine motifs like silver unicorns.

Gore-Tex and Sympatex are considered almost a necessity in the German speaking countries, but they are no longer unexciting nylon and suede unisex boots on injected soles.

Traditional kids' company Richter has updated its waterproof winter boots for girls so that they are totally fashionable and functional too. Bright fuchsia suede boot combinations with pretty orange and pink floral overlays on trendy Italian-made rubber soles made their boots very modern.

Mexx had pretty long boots for bigger girls with rubber dots and Velcro closures, with strong contrast colours. Mexx takes its best-selling ladies' fashion styles and scales them down for kids, in the same season.

Fashion clothing shops are eating into shoe retailers' business; they are at the cutting edge of fashion and one of the reasons that many German shoe retailers are struggling.

Leomil World of Characters has addressed this with integrated shoe and clothing lines, and has started to adopt character licences for clothes as well as shoes - with cool Yugi-Oh T-shirts with Japanese Manga figures.

The accessory section of GDS was much increased with some very interesting niche brands, and even some retailers/suppliers offering interesting one-offs, and some very intricate and much worked items.

Helena Angelique is collaboration in Holland between an American concept/tattoo artist and a shoe designer, creating limited edition shoes and bags with cameo or tattoo rose motifs, very unusual and different. While Leontine Hagoort's bag collection is Babushka inspired with hand embroidery, overlays in unusual colour combinations like brown leather, tweed with fuchsia and turquoise ethnic embroidery.

The next GDS fair spans a different part of the week from Sunday to Wednesday, 18 to 21 September, although future dates are still in doubt.

By Penny Leese.