After decades as a dusty stereotype, Birkenstocks are hot. Sales have skyrocketed and they’ve filtered from high fashion down onto the feet of grateful pedestrians across America. These Vermont-ass sandals are riding high, and they’re enjoying it!
The Cut sent writer Cathy Horyn to Gorlitz, Germany, where many of the clunky cork sandals are produced, to explore the brand’s resurgence. Not so long ago, they were the punchline of an extraordinarily tired Rush Limbaugh joke. But—in a perfect illustration of the hilarious pack mentality of High Fashion—Phoebe Philo of Celine sent fur-lined Birks down the runway in 2012 and gave the industry an excuse to wear something actually comfortable on their feet for once.
Result: They made 10 million pairs of shoes in 2012; this year, it’ll be 25 million. A whole pile of trend pieces about ugly shoes later, Birkenstocks doesn’t even NEED Supreme or Vetements:
The company doesn’t release results, but according to estimates, sales have tripled since 2012 to $800 million. The brand is even cool enough to turn down Supreme and Vetements, both of which, Reichert says, wanted to put logos on sandals. Reichert said no, chiefly because Birkenstock didn’t need more demand in its factories; earlier this summer, it had orders for 2 million pairs, bread-and-butter styles, that it still hadn’t filled.
Co-CEO Oliver Reichert—who has helped lead the company’s capitalization on its newfound fashion cred by doing things like hiring a proper sales force, which the company previously did not have—just doesn’t see where it would get the brand:
“There’s no benefit for us except prostitution,” says Reichert. “Because this is just prostitution.” (“I just wanted to work with Birkenstock because their shoes are so comfortable,” Demna Gvasalia, the Vetements creative director, told me. Two weeks after I spoke with Reichert, he, though still skeptical, allowed his marketing department to restart discussions.)
Really, you have to read the piece for Reichert, who is a trip and a half:
At the Four Seasons, he says, “I was talking to the guy doing the music at the party. It was shit. It was like pop-music shit. And I told him — he was a French guy doing the Louis Vuitton shows, the Hermès shows. I told him, ‘Get rid of this Lenny Kravitz shit. Who wants to listen to that?’ We’re not a radio station. Janis Joplin is real. We’re not the remix company.”
Does he mean Michel Gaubert, the leading sound director in the industry? Reichert nods.
Another great line: “I don’t give a shit about fashion,” he told Horyn. “Fashion is, pfffttt, what is fashion? Inditex [owner of Zara] is doing fashion 12 times a year. What is this nonsense?” He’s not wrong!
Anyway, here’s the punchline to the whole thing. The resurgence of Birkenstocks has tracked pretty closely with the rise of “wellness” culture. And guess where they were first invented? Why, in the midst of late-19th century wellness culture, of course!
In the late-19th century, when German spa culture was at its zenith, Europeans and rich Americans flocked to resorts like Baden-Baden for water cures, and Konrad Birkenstock, a Frankfurt cobbler, began making shoes with contoured insoles to serve them.
Pseudoscientific cures, measles, Birkenstocks—everything old is new again!
Read the full piece here.
Update 8/22/18: A Vetements spokesperson has reached out with the following statement on the matter of the collaboration that wasn’t:
“VETEMENTS was indeed in talks with Birkenstock regarding a collaboration for a past VETEMENTS show when it was decided that the collaboration wouldn’t be pursued further given design/production restraints etc.”
Our headline has been updated accordingly.