Praised, mocked, or brought up to date, shoes are seen as the reflection of an era, communities, and a personality. Between iconic models or in the process of becoming one, Release devotes a weekly column to enthusiasts who tell their stories through their pumps. Today, Karim, 25, a former critic of the German sandal who has become a zealous convert.
Karim in Birkenstock. Photo DR
This is the story of cheesy but patient sandals. They work you hard, get you stuck in the ropes. The haughty aesthetes, brought to heel, are in a state of genuflection in front of his sole which can be distinguished among a thousand. Their name: Birkenstock. They are often associated with words that end in “ique”. But the problem is that despite its global success, it is still denied the adjective “chic”.
Karim, 25, a lover of beautiful pieces, has long been part of the reserve army of skeptics. At the end of 2019, he set off on a world tour. During a crossing of India, it stops in Goa (southwest coast). Karim participates in a hippie party including a hundred people. Drugs are prohibited there, but the atmosphere (scent of incense, music…) makes the guests go into a trance. At the end of the evening, Karim palms his flip flops, drowned in the 200 shoes piled up at the entrance to the large living room. In his distress, he’s all happy to see a gracious hand reaching out to him a couple of Birkenstock Arizona cutout tongue, sagging sole. Karim instantly goes from a staunch detractor to a zealous convert. «By putting them on, I was transformed. I put aside the stereotype of the German tourist in Birk-socks, shorts, backpack. ” He crosses India, Laos and Thailand with his double strap sandals “at the end of life”. It swallows the kilometers in a comfort hitherto unknown. “No more friction caused by flip-flops. No more back pain. My foot has never been so stable. ” Adept of donation for donation, Karim leaves them to a man in need in Thailand.
From an “ugliness attack” to the object of counter-culture
After this story of the immediate conversion of a globetrotter, it remains to be seen how the orthopedic insole made its hole? Small moonwalk through the centuries. In 1774, Johan Birkenstock founded a family business. It was not until 1896 that Konrad B. developed the first flexible orthopedic insole. A liner with unsightly shapes and an addictive embrace. In the decades that followed, it was labeled “healthy for the feet”. The 1960s marked the golden decade. In Germany first, she becomes the cool baba. 1966: entry into the US market thanks to Margot Fraser. The German entrepreneur exiled in California, prone to regular back pain, is desperate for the pair who would soothe her backbone. Without success. She then began to promote the made in Germany with shoe store managers. The sellers kick in touch by taking out the card “The assault on ugliness”. Reckless, Fraser targets hippie-friendly health food stores as a last resort. Instant transplant. The sandal becomes an object of counter-culture worn by anti-diktats, anti-nuclear, anti-war-in-Vietnam, anti-consumerism, social anti-conformism babas …
Karim knows absolutely nothing about this protest history. Back in Paris after a trip cut short because of the coronavirus, he sees Birkenstock everywhere. The bite of nostalgia is never far away: round the world, Goa, hippie, outstretched hand, walking, comfort … June 2020, France is deconfined, the sun is in the game. The young man wants to renew “The experience of comfort and practicality”. He bought Arizona Birko-Flor Nubuck almost similar to the pair received in Goa. Whoever has created his vintage thrift store does not go out without his clothes matching. And the Birk has managed to find a place of choice in his wardrobe. “I combine them with loose suit pants and a shirt, or with jeans and a little Mexican shirt. Today, they follow me everywhere. ”
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American actress Frances McDormand in Arizona at the 91e Oscar ceremony, February 24, 2019. Photo Kevin Winter. AFP
“The Birkenstock is like Jul”
After the wave of hate, sandals have become fashion icons. Precursors, Narciso Rodriguez and Paco Rabanne slip them at the feet of their models in 1997. The decade marks the end of inhibitions. The Birk becomes «bold» (“Daring”): everyone is doing it, Marni, Chanel, Céline (the fashion house puts on its models of sandals filled with mink). Celebrities strut in Birk: Victoria Beckham, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio. Since 2015, a pump fan rally has been meeting in Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium) in May. Lately, it is the Valentino fashion house that revisited the two-strap shoe worn by Frances McDormand (photo) in 2019 at the Oscars ceremony. The brand’s three historic models (Arizona, Madrid, Giza) still represent 55% of sales. Around 30 million pairs are sold worldwide per year. To explain this success, Karim to his very personal theory: “Honestly, the Birkenstock is like Jul : slaughtered by critics, but in the end people ended up loving it. Both are top sellers in their respective fields. ” When will the collab?