How Birkenstock Sandals Took Over the Streets

As the latest 1774 collection drops, we jump into the German brand's archives
IMAGE Birkenstock

In the early 2010s, trend forecasters K-Hole introduced the fashion world to a suffix that, for better or worse, would go on to transform the way we talk about trends. It all started with 'normcore', a comfortable and eminently clone-able aesthetic that drew inspiration from the humdrum stylings of 90s dads. Was it a reaction to Noughties excess, a rejection of the newfound pressures of social media, or just a result of Seinfeld finding its way to streaming services? Who knows, but it was a simpler time in more ways than one.

And during this period, there was a particular piece of footwear that reigned supreme: the Birkenstock sandal. They were everywhere, with or without socks, having managed to step away from the well-worn hippie image it had developed over the latter half of the 20th century (one obtained in the 'Summer of Love' through their highly practical and comfy orthopaedic soles). With the help of the growing trend, the affordable Birk soon became a casual staple that appealed to millennials globally. And sure, they had been co-opted by cool kids in the past – most notably Kate Moss in the Noughties – but this was a Birkenstock boom like no other.

Photo by Birkenstock.

What's more, while normcore’s popularity has wavered for more Y2K-tinged ‘cores (the less said about 'goblincore', the better), Birkenstock’s desirability hasn’t. To this day, you can spot at least a few pairs of Birks while walking around any sun-doused pavement of a major city (and with the introduction of their shearling-lined silhouettes, they even make appearances during winter, too). No longer just for parents with vinyl collections and cushty pension pots, but a shoe with infinite style kudos – by no means an easy feat.

The 1774 collection is largely to thank for upholding the brand's reputation and fostering the feeling of timelessness around it. The creative arm of the brand regularly delves into the company's history; it’s named after the year Birkenstock was born, and the designers utilise the extensive archives of 250 years of heritage for their often fashion-forward designs. Rummage through the extensive files and you'll quickly find that its renowned arched tread has barely changed.

That is part of the reason why Birkenstock has managed to sustain itself for a couple of centuries (take a moment to let that amount of time sink in...). The orthopedically-pleasing insole was first introduced by the founder's great grandson in 1913, after working for over a decade on a version that would also promote foot health. Going against mainstream practises, Konrad Birkenstock created a silhouette that would revolutionise the industry and act as the foundation to what we know today. A time-tested sole, no wonder it's the slip-on style of choice for pragmatic dressers.

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Birkenstock 1774 III Arizona


According to the 1774 archive team, who work from a factory in Germany, the need for a formal archive first became apparent in 2018 when Birkenstock embarked on a collaboration with London fashion college Central Saint Martins. “We invited students to draw inspiration from our archive and our iconic Birkenstock silhouettes to create their own contemporary renditions. This collaboration helped us build and expand a centralised archive that shapes the development of our exclusive 1774 line, while also serving as a driving force of our creative collaborations.”

It's not just students and Birkenstock shoemakers who have dipped into the historic files. Kim Jones, Dior’s menswear artistic director, updated the Tokio mule and Milano sandal and debuted it as part of the autumn/winter ’22 collection. Other esteemed fashion houses – Jil Sander, Rick Owens and Proenza Schouler, to name a few – have put their spin on the silhouettes, as well as the likes of streetwear stalwarts Stüssy and hip Berlin-brand 032c. With a hypey collaboration nearly every year since 1774 started, it’s hardly surprising that their ‘Cool Factor' remains high.

Photo by Birkenstock.

But the footwear aficionados also push their own designs, too. They're newest drop features self-proclaimed, joy-inducing colourways of their most cherished styles, Sylt, Tokio and Arizona, and the Florida and Mayari silhouettes have been pulled straight from the archive, creating a collection of silhouettes for every man and activity. Want a pool-side appropriate slip-on? Opt for some Sylts. Anyone wanting to dabbling in some gorpcore activities (trend follower or not) can trust the Miyari’s or Florida’s adjustable straps to secure them in. And for pottering-about purposes, the soon to be released Tokio will do the job.

“Our development process typically spans around 2 years for each collection, during which we closely observe and draw inspiration from the world around us,” they tell me. The Birkenstocks 1774 team expect the newest styles to “make their statement soon.”

Will they have the chokehold effect of the garden-friendly Arizona sandal (which is turning 50 this year!) from trends of yore, or the more recently hyped Boston clog, donned proudly during lockdown walks as a symbol of style amidst loungewear? Only time will tell, but rest assured, they'll always have the normies.

FromEsquire UK

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Carmen Bellot
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