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There’s no denying these sandals are ugly. Broad, flat, the opposite of elegant, they make the wearer’s feet splay and slap.

But Birkenstock was never meant to become a fashion icon: the company was founded in 1774 by German cobbler Johann Adam Birkenstock to provide comfortable, supportive shoes. The famous ‘Fussbett’ or footbed — made of contoured cork, suede and jute — was designed by his great-great-grandson in 1896.

Then, in the 1960s, a German dressmaker living in California visited home and brought the sandals back to the U.S.

They were considered too ugly for shoe stores and their ‘hippy’ aesthetic meant they often ended up next to the muesli section in health stores.

And there they stayed until 1990, when 16-year-old Croydon model Kate Moss wore them for one of her first fashion shoots. And suddenly they were cool.

(Hilary Swank is one celebrity who loves Birkenstock sandals.) The company was founded in 1774 by German cobbler Johann Adam Birkenstock

American actress Vanessa Hudgens (left) is another celeb who can’t get enough of Birkenstocks. Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski (right) pictured wearing the sandals at LAX International Airport 

The Valentino collaboration from last year (left) and the classic Arizona (right) £75

Seen on the feet of a would-be supermodel rather than a bohemian middle-aged man, Birkenstocks became an aspirational style essential overnight.

In 2019, nearly 24 million pairs were sold in more than 100 countries. This week, Birkenstock — whose majority share is now owned by a U.S. finance company backed by French luxury house LVMH — announced it was floating on the New York stock exchange with an estimated value of $9.2 billion (£7.6 billion).

How a company that essentially sells unattractive outdoor slippers is worth so much is a tale of savvy marketing, smart collaborations and the clever seduction of the entire fashion industry.

I bought my first pair back in 1996. They were white Arizonas, the classic style with two thick straps and silver buckles — the same ones Moss had worn in her iconic shoot for The Face magazine.

By the late 1990s, they were being worn by everyone of my generation. Surfing the fashion wave called ‘grunge’, they looked just as cool with a bias-cut skirt as they did with jeans and a beanie hat. And though they were not quite high fashion (yet) they had cachet.

In 2013, Phoebe Philo, who ran French fashion house Celine, produced a version that was lined in fur and sold for more than £400.

Birkenstocks have enjoyed a surge in popularity and sales in recent years; UK revenues jumped 48.8 per cent last year and demand has been further driven after the shoes featured in the Barbie movie (pictured)

Proenza Schouler’s 2021 electric blue leather two-strap (left) and Birkenstock’s shearling-lined tan Arizona (right) £130

Manolo Blahnik’s leather-trimmed PVC sandal, £330 (left) and the Silver Gizeh thong design, £65 (right)

Cosy shearling-lined big buckle Milano style in cognac, £170 (left) and Rick Owens’ shiny silver leather version (right)

British actress Naomi Watts has been pictured many times in Birkenstocks (pictured in 2015 in LA)

A few seasons later Givenchy brought out a floral and metallic double-strapped sandal that looked suspiciously like the Arizona. Other design houses followed, cashing in on the demand for designer shoes you could actually walk in.

Then, in 2018, Birkenstock did something very clever — instead of trying to fight the fashion world, the company got into bed with it. First it engaged London’s Central Saint Martin’s, letting fashion students at the college delve into the archives and allowing four students to redesign some of its classic styles.

Next it cosied up to a handful of select fashion houses to reimagine some classic styles, namely the Boston Clog and the Arizona. Rick Owens, Valentino and Proenza Schouler all produced interpretations.

Such designer collaborations — almost all of which sold out — made Birkenstock a major part of the fashion conversation.

I remember chasing a woman down the street to find out where she’d bought her black Valentino Arizonas, such was the fever around that particular combination.

Partnerships with Manolo Blahnik, streetwear brand Stussy and Jil Sander followed, and one of the most hotly anticipated fashion items of last year was Dior’s interpretation.

What’s more, a pair of Birkenstocks made not one, but two appearances in this year’s blockbuster movie, Barbie. Sales of Birkenstocks were said to have risen by 300 per cent as a result.

They’ve become the toast of the fashion world in recent years – and now Birkenstock is set to be valued at more than $9.2 billion in its eagerly awaited listing in New York. Pictured, Julianne Moore in the sandals recently

Pictured: The Arizona big buckle in green patent leather is on sale for £130 

The now Hollywood staple – loved by Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and supermodel Kendall Jenner – is said to have become irresistible after women ditched their painful shoes amid the coronavirus pandemic

 The Boston clog in natural suede, £125 (left) and the Budget beach style Arizona Essentials, £45 (right)

Arizona big buckle shearling in blau, £170 (left); Boston big buckle shearling clog in eggshell, £190 (right) 

But, rather than oversaturating the market, Birkenstock did the opposite — limiting availability globally. It’s now one of the most lusted-after brands on the planet, beloved of celebrities and the fashion world, which has always loved a bit of ‘ugly’.

Birkenstocks, with their cork footbeds and chunky straps fit the bill perfectly. Wear them with an ultra-feminine dress to avoid looking too saccharine or team them with white tennis socks (as most people under the age of 25 do) to turn yourself into a Gen Z hipster.

What is extraordinary is that while other items in the fickle world of fashion have faded into obscurity, the Birkenstock has hogged the spotlight for more than three decades.

The question is, now that most women — and very many men, too — own a pair, will they want to buy another? Or is the market saturated with the broad, clunky, buckled sandals?

That’s for the money men in New York to decide…

Content source – www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com

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