What is the Birkenstock craze? It’s not just about comfort.
WHEN LOVERN PASCUAL and November Ang got married last month, more than one guest confronted the newlyweds with playful variations on this question: “Do you wear Birks at your wedding?” Are you kidding? âThe couple weren’t kidding. Ms Pascual opted for an ivory pair of two Arizona straps from the German shoe brand, while Ms Ang opted for the chocolate brown Yara, a sandal with straps almost elegantly wrap around the big toe.
âThe intention was not to impress the guests. It was about being true to ourselves, âsaid Ms. Pascal, a 36-year-old customer service representative in Grand Cayman. Good choice, considering their wedding venue was a âshakeâ catamaran in the middle of the ocean. The Birks’ rubber soles provided “good grip.”
Considering Birkenstocks’ associations with confused German tourists and swim-reluctant hippies, wedding guests may be forgiven for their confusion. But despite (or perhaps because of) their aesthetic awkwardness, Birks has been firmly endorsed by fashion, and has been for some time. In 1990, Kate Moss posed as a duet for Face magazine, a British alternative style bible. In 1992, Marc Jacobs punctuated his famous âgrungeâ collection of Perry Ellis with Arizonas. But the current trend for Birkenstock in the news dates back to 2012, when designer Phoebe Philo, then at Celine, sent Arizona-ish sandals to the Paris runway. Lined with mink, they inspired a fashion frenzy and put the much more affordable original furless Arizona in the spotlight.
Today, Tracee Ellis Ross and Jason Momoa are among the many famous fans of cork and leather stompers. As part of Birkenstock 1774, a line of collaborations named for the brand’s founding year, trendy fashion brands like Rick Owens, Jil Sander and Proenza Schouler have designed forward-thinking versions of the classic Birks. Lyst, a data company that tracks online shopping behavior, named Birkenstock’s sheepskin-lined Boston Clog as one of the ‘hottest women’s products’ for the fourth quarter of last year . And in February, LVMH – the luxury conglomerate that owns powers like Louis Vuitton and Dior – bought a controlling stake in Birkenstock, cementing its fashion reputation.
The emphasis on WFH comfort has sparked interest in the brand. âIf anything good came out of the pandemic, it’s that it has forced us to ask ourselves what is important to us and what really matters in our lives,â said Oliver Reichert, CEO of Birkenstock. âWorking at home has freed us from social constraints. Like tight heels and moccasins. Mr Reichert has suggested that, regardless of Birkenstock’s fashion value, he thinks the orthopedic angle is the main draw.
A combination of nostalgia and wearable versatility keeps Michael Scripps, 45, at Birks. He landed his first pair of Arizonas as a teenager in the ’90s. âI was kind of a young rebel,â he said, remembering that he and his friends would sport them at Grateful Dead shows. âThere was an association between the shoe and the counter-culture. Now sales chairman of a solar energy company in Denver, Mr. Scripps no longer dresses to fit the man. But he stuck with his sandals, which he deems appropriate for the office. âThere aren’t a lot of wardrobe items you pick up in your teenage years that are still relevant in your forties that you hit every day,â he said.
A brief history of the often surprising, sometimes counter-intuitive collaborations for Birkenstock 1774
RICK OWENS (2018) Subversive as always, Mr. Owens kicked off this black ponyhair style in his first collaboration.
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Chizayne Mpinja, a healthcare consultant in Pasadena, Calif., Has been devoted to her Arizonas since 2007. Although her sister and 5-year-old daughter scold her, Ms. Mpinja, 42, wears Birks almost every day. and dress them. more easily than it did in the aughts. âI think celebrities have been wearing them for a while, so maybe that cover sort of leaked out,â she said. On nights out with friends, she’ll enhance hers by incorporating them into all-black jeans and tops sets. âIt’s weird. They’re trendy, but not. The shoes give it a ‘confident chic,’ a reminder that stilettos aren’t the only way to feel sexy.
Paolo Riva, senior vice president of brand partnerships and merchandising at Neiman Marcus, says consistency continued Birkenstock’s reign, as did the odd and winning appearance of the shoes. At first glance, he said, they âdon’t look perfectly correct. But when you watch it twice, it’s pretty cool. Likewise, New York stylist Allison Bornstein argues that Birks’ Sasquatchian awkwardness makes her “a good counterpoint” to sophisticated tailored clothing, a trend she sees for women. She also supports overly feminine dresses (like the one on the left) with down-to-earth Birks. “Go against your gutâ¦ Where you think it wouldn’t work, that’s where you put it.” Ms Bornstein urges men to balance a clog or sandal with “something smarter” like Dickies-style pants to “counter the woody look.” Recklessly donning Birks with shorts and a hoodie will land male fans in camp counselor territory, while women should avoid associating the shoes with bohemian dresses lest they look like the past. Ghost of Woodstocks.
Some true obsessives, like Keri Ryan, reject caution. Ms. Ryan, 43, runs a farmers market in Montpellier, Vermont, and freely associates her “timeless” Birks with just about anything. Ms. Ryan has only owned two pairs in her life. Her first, bought at the age of 12, took her to college. The second, which she got in her twenties and wore to hitchhike across Ireland, continues to kick. Except that they are eternally stuck with an ex-boyfriend. âI can’t live this way. I’ve been wearing a sorry excuse for flip flops for the past few months. Update: she can finally throw them away. A day after our interview, Mrs. Ryan “secretly got married.” Her wedding gift? New Birks.
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