EVERY season has a winner, a loser and a pair of Birkenstocks. Or so, not surprisingly, is the view of those at the 240-year-old German sandals brand which remains unfaltering in its admiration for a shoe it considers superior to, well, everything actually.
As crucial to German culture as Volkswagen and sauerkraut, Birkenstock has long flown a flag for no-nonsense, practical design with an aesthetic that has found itself in favour with everyone from orthopedic surgeons to supermodels.
But this summer, even the most sceptical fashionistas will be forced to acknowledge the brand’s phenomenal success. After all, the “orthopaedic foot bed” (sexy, right?) has achieved the impossible by becoming the most coveted shoe style in the shops this season. Glance along the floor of the bus or train to work and evidence of the brand’s popularity is plain to see: always heavy-duty sandals, always black or navy, always Birkenstocks. In fact, so popular is the sandal – particularly the bestselling Arizona style – that 12 million pairs were sold last year alone, with that figure certain to increase this year. Currently selling like hot cakes in shops and online – Amazon has seen a 95 per cent increase in sales of Birkenstocks, while Asos.com and MatchesFashion.com have also noticed considerable interest – Birkenstocks are as crucial to 2014 as the Commonwealth Games.
So why the sudden interest? Phoebe Philo, of course. In sending a collection of “Furkenstocks” down the catwalk alongside her spring/summer 2013 collection for Céline, the reverential designer certainly played a leading role in nudging the Birkenstock, and its many imitators, back into the fashion world’s collective conscious. “Birkenstocks look fresh and modern again,” says MatchesFashion.com’s buying director Natalie Kingham, who is in no doubt of the positive effect Philo has had on the German stalwart.
Birkenstock’s group ceo, Oliver Reichert, says the Birkenstock success story is dependent on contemporary society’s determination to shun faddish fashion trends, not embrace them.
“Modern women have extremely high demands concerning their footwear,” says Reichert.
“Some years ago the heels could not be high enough. Today, even fashion-oriented females are emancipating themselves from the dictates of the fashion gurus, moving from pure fashion to function with more emphasis on comfort, convenience and functionality.”
The fashion world is equally convinced: “I think women really want to be comfortable in their shoes,” says Kingham, “and wear them with great tailoring — particularly trousers for a relaxed louche silhouette.”
Don’t mind if we do.