The German health shoe brand Birkenstock is a bit like kale. It’s neither glamorous, nor exotic–no asparagus, no quinoa–yet it makes people feel good, almost virtuous. Because they know it is good for them.
Last night in Paris this unbelievably venerable German footwear brand (it was founded in 1774) did something rather unexpected: It held what must have been a hugely expensive showcase and party in the temporary showspace of the Tuileries Gardens. There was a purpose built pavilion, all pine walkways and soothing plant arrangements. There was a non-stop show of 40 models wearing 115 different Birkenstock styles. Caroline Issa was swanning around Issa-ishly being photographed in one of them. There was lots and lots of healthy and delicious food (although no kale that I observed), lots of less healthy drink, plus picnic tables to consume it on. There was even a selection of Birkenstock’s successful line of cork-foundation, leather upholstered beds (who knew?) to contemplate a post Birkenstock-watching nap on.
So, like, what? Why was Birkenstock trying to stick its practically shod foot in the door of Paris Fashion Week? The company’s hale and hearty CEO Olivier Reichert answered thus: “We have been in the fashion industry for so many years already! Go around and ask every top photographer and stylist, they are all wearing Birkenstock…”
It’s true. Lots of people, whatever their job, wear Birkenstock. But was he trying to add a fashion patina to the brand?
“We are not going into the arena with the big fashion brands,” replied Reichert. “We are just trying to open a space for the people to relax and have a drink. We want to join the family, let them check our new collection. But we are not on the way to push the fashion more–we are ok where we are.”
Birkenstock currently produces 1,800 styles of footwear and is a huge and powerfully successful company. It doesn’t need the fashion world to thrive. Last night’s event however suggests that the kale of footwear has aspirations to a subtle repositioning: still healthy, still virtuous, but with a new undertone of luxuriousness too. More avocado.