The woman cruising the shoe salon at Saks Fifth Avenue needs just the right pair of pumps.

Salespeople present her with options. None will do. She can only buy one pair, she explains, a well-behaved baby perched on the hip of her chic taupe pantsuit. She'll be back to buy those others when her husband makes partner, she promises, but for now, she needs just the one perfect pair.The search continues.

More suggestions are made and rejected. Finally, Stuart Weitzman, who's been called "the king of the evening shoe" and who is in the middle of an interview, can't resist the challenge.

"How about these?" he asks, picking up one of his more casual creations.

Nope. She wants suede.

He looks around.

"You want the perfect plain pump?" he asks. He directs a salesman to show her another pair he has in mind.

"These would be perfect," he says, holding up a shoe from his fall collection after she's drifted away. "But I know she'd say the heel was too high."

Part artiste, part shoe salesman, such is the life of a man who creates fashions for the feet and sells them in 35 countries. He likes getting out of his New York headquarters to visit stores and hear from consumers, because he knows they know what they want. And if he can't provide it, someone else will.

Before Weitzman became involved in the search for the perfect suede pump, he had been showing off a pair of shoes with suede on the inside.

"Feel this," he urges, offering up the suede innards of a pair of his casual pumps. It's that kind of thing that sets his shoes apart from others, he says. Comfort comes first. Then beauty.

"I won't design a shoe if it's going to cripple a woman," he says, adding that that's not always a prime consideration in his in-dus-try.

He's known for high heels that are to shoes what Judith Leiber's little purses are to handbags - whimsical, glitzy attention-getters.

One of his most popular current styles is a black number with a rhinestone woman at the heel, a leash of rhinestones that runs along the side of the shoe, and a rhinestone puppy at the end of the leash near the toe.

A popular perennial, a shoe that has been in his line since he took over his father's shoe business more than 20 years ago, is a sparkling pump studded with tiny, multicolored rhinestones that has the light-refracting properties of a disco ball.

Stuart Weitzman shows off his shoes. He watches people in their shoes. He asks about the shoes on your feet. He watches women looking at his shoes. He even wears his shoes (he wears a women's 10), ensuring there are always at least a few masculine styles in his line. In short, he never tires of shoes.

"When I'm with my shoes, I don't think of it as work," he says. "I don't think of it as different from a painter with his art or a sculptor with his statues."

Like any artist, he's always looking for new material to work with. In the Saks salon are Stuart Weitzman casuals and heels made out of chain mail, linen and ladies' lingerie. He holds up the pump with the "illusion heel," a curvy, skinny heel made out of metal. From the side it looks as thin as a pencil.

Looking at the sleek design, you'd never have any idea that it was crafted by a metalworker who makes stick shifts for Mercedes-Benzes.

This particular design was conceived in the same place many of Stuart Weitzman's shoes first start to take shape: in the bathtub, where he carves ideas into blocks of soap with a potato peeler.