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Seated in his Noho boutique on New York's Bleecker Street, Rafe Totengco -- in jeans, a floral-motif shirt and orange Sabelt sneakers -- appears as excited as a youngster on his first day at school. And justly so. This past year has been an education of sorts for the 35-year-old designer. Totengco launched his first shoe collection for spring '03, after finding success with the Rafe New York handbag line he introduced in 1995.
Judging from the accolades his tightly edited footwear collections have been receiving from fashion editors and buyers, Totengco has a tremendous amount of star potential as a shoe designer. According to the label's vice president, Rafe's sister, Tesa, the spring '03 footwear line represented 20 percent of overall sales. She said the current collection's performance is "right on target," with one style selling out and reorders flowing in for several others. Currently, Totengco's shoes are carried in 47 specialty stores in the United States and six overseas.
"Ultimately, I think accessories are what set you apart," said the designer, whose personal shoe rack is lined with styles by Gucci, Helmut Lang, Clarks, vintage Patrick Cox and Number 9. "When you update …