*Most* days this summer, I found myself wearing white patent Birkenstocks that only one person called “nursing shoes” (then bought her own metallic pair.) The Birkenstock brand is hardly new– its heritage goes all the way back to 1774, when Johann Adam Birkenstock literally cobbled his living in olden-times Germany.
And it’s bizarre how every handful of years they keep dipping in and out of style. I can remember as an eighties kid, looking up to my friend’s big sister’s anti-excess look: a boyish, long-over-one-eye haircut, denim overalls over a white tank top, and earth-brown Birkenstocks. She was like the female River Phoenix, but I was too young to afford my own pair.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2018 and it seems like everyone has collectively decided that this would be the year ultimate comfort would win out even over chunky mules. And at $100-something a pair, Birkenstocks hardly seem expensive anymore, given that none too many shoes can compare to the iconic footwear’s cork-lined, contoured foot support, endorsed by podiatrists the world-over.
So why now, again? Well, you can read all 3,477 words of Cathy Horyn’s recent epic on the unlikely return of Birkenstock, published in The Cut. Or, here’s the short version on why arch support never looked so good:
#1: They’ve been sanctioned by Paris Fashion Week.
Last summer, Birkenstock showed for the first time ever at fashion’s Mecca, Paris Fashion Week—and was endorsed by super-influencer Caroline Issa. The 37-year-old publisher of Tank Magazine had collaborated with the company for the opening of its first “Birkenstock Box”, a concept retail space launched in Berlin, where visitors could shop from a rainbow of styles and limited editions. She’s just one of many street style stars spotted in Birks ever since, proving the previously deemed ugliest shoe adds that coveted, ‘threw-this-on’ casualness to everything from two-piece suits to airy summery frocks.
#2 The collaborations just keep coming.
In 2012, Céline creative director Pheobe Philo presented an homage to the stalwart style with mink-lined “Furkenstocks”, causing a ricochet effect among high fashion houses like Givenchy. The result? Sales have increased three-fold to $800 million. This spring, Birkenstock partnered with Rick Owens on edgier designs such as a grey, calf-haired rendition, and is set for a follow-up collection come December. What really grabbed headlines though was Horyn’s revelation that the German-manufacturer boldly turned down logo-driven collabs with Supreme and Vetements, going so far as to call it “prostitution”. Though reports in recent days suggest the full-stop with Vetements was actually due to technical difficulties.
#3 They’re getting cheaper.
Trickling into North America over the past couple of years are Birkenstock’s answer to vegan footwear, dubbed EVA, short for ethylene-vinyl acetate. Available in a range of too-fun colours from lemon yellow to “scuba coral”, these rubbery dupes of the brand’s classic Arizona, single-strap Madrid, Gizeh thongs and toe-covering Boston, are lightweight and water-friendly—and cost a mere 40-ish bucks.
Aside from all of this—and as I’ve written before—wearing comfortable shoes, in my opinion, is addictive. Hence, the longstanding success of Stan Smiths, Converse and Vans. Because, once your feet stop hurting for the sake of fashion, is there really any going back?