Sometimes the most exciting collaborations happen when the participants are so distinct that they have no clear connection. For example, no two shoe designers have less overlap than Birkenstock and Manolo Blahnik, the brand that was immortalised by Sex and the City. Should they collaborate on a new shoe that struggles hard to merge their disparate styles? Probably not. But have they? Yes.
Birkenstock has hired Blahnik to jazz up its women’s range. The results of this crazed experiment include fuchsia and royal blue velvet interpretations of the classic Arizona model, and a new version of the black leather Boston shoe. The likelihood is that you won’t buy a pair of these shoes. If you want to wear Manolo Blahniks you won’t want to clod around in a pair of Birkenstocks; and if you like Birkenstocks, you aren’t going to want to spend £415 on an impractical-looking new pair with a sparkly buckle. But that doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t interesting.
On the surface, the new range looks like Blahnik’s concession to lockdown. Just as working from home has caused a lot of formalwear companies to pivot to sweaters and chinos, Covid must have also made a dent in the luxury footwear industry. You buy a pair of Manolos so that you can be seen in them, so it’s difficult to justify splashing out when the only souls who have seen you for two years are your cat and the occasional Yodel driver. As such, you could be forgiven for thinking that partnering with Birkenstock is the first step of a progression that logically ends with Manolo Blahnik collaborating with Pop Tarts on a glittery new breakfast cereal for people too depressed to cook dinner.
But it’s a little more complicated than that. This is because, despite its utilitarian origins, Birkenstock is now also a luxury brand. Last year, the company was acquired by an investment fund part-owned by the luxury French conglomerate LVMH, which is responsible for Louis Vuitton, Dom Pérignon, Bulgari and countless others.
So perhaps this is LVMH’s attempt to pull Birkenstock in line with the rest of its luxury lineup. Perhaps next we’ll see glass Birkenstocks, or Birkenstocks with eight-inch heels. It would make sense: after all, they wouldn’t be any harder to break in.