How Birkenstocks Kicked Their Crunchy Rep and Became the Cool Shoe for All Seasons

Lose the sweatpants, keep the Birkenstocks. This summer, comfort and chic are one

They’ve come a long way, baby. From the orthopedic health movement of the Sixties to the fashion-obsessed aughts, the once-basic Birkenstock has become a shoe for all seasons. The unmistakable leather-and-cork creations transcend age, occupation, class, and income, and grace the feet of some of the world’s chicest women: Kate Moss, Charlize Theron, Katie Holmes, Naomi Watts, Sienna Miller, and Gwyneth Paltrow. In the process, the German-based company has swelled into an almost $5 billion-dollar brand that currently produces 1,800 styles.

Birkenstock’s journey from funky to fabulous began when the shoes first appeared on international runways in the early 2000s, after Moss playfully donned a pair at a fashion shoot. In short order, luxe brands like Celine, Givenchy, Valentino, Isabel Marant, Fendi, and Ferragamo came out with their own flat-soled homages—at three or four times Birkenstock’s price point. Then Birkenstock got smart and kicked off its own designer collabs. These days, their collection features styles created with Valentino, Stüssy, and Proenza Schouler, as well as students of the London fashion academy Central Saint Martins. All of the designer versions fall under the Birk banner of “1774”—the year German shoemaker Johann Adam Birkenstock committed to his craft—and sell for $300 to $500 a pair.

The stolid German company began to envision a more stylish future when it decided to host its own Paris runway show in the Tuileries in 2017, with 40 models strutting down a runway in 115 styles, among them clogs in polyurethane; ballet flats; sneakers; oxfords; and even moto booties, all with that uniquely contoured footbed made for both women and men, including mandal-loving fans like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher, and Christian Bale.

It’s unusual for a populist brand with such a distinct health-conscious pedigree to regularly make the pages of Vogue (which deemed the shoes “pretty/ugly”), especially since Birkenstock is the rare fashion brand that does zero celebrity seeding. But if you hang out at Birkenstock’s landmark Abbott Kinney store (one of only three in the country), you’re sure to spot a random celeb or two, like Frances McDormand, who rocked a custom pair of yellow suede Valentino Birks with her pink Valentino puffed-sleeved gown at the Oscars.

Birkenstocks are the rare footwear brand that straddles cool and comfort, butch and femme, Boho and SoHo. They’re made for you: fashiony or anti-fashion. So now the only thing one need consider is: to sock or not to sock? That, indeed, is the question.

Bukarest by Alecsander Rothschild: $580

Arizona Valentino Garavani: $510

Arizona Big Buckle: $150

Arizona Big Buckle: $150

Florida Fresh Vegan: $99.95

Super-Birki: $79.95

Arizona Split: $115

Terra by Saskia Lenaerts: $510

Kyoto Soft Footbed: $150

Arizona Split: $115

Arizona Essentials: $44.95

Tatacoa: $170

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