When models took to the spring/summer catwalk at Chanel decked in clunky wooden clogs, a collective eyebrow was raised. This wasn’t the first time the French fashion house had toyed with the traditional heel – last year saw one shaped like a gun, this season, one so arched it looked set to snap – but a thick slab of wood? After machete-sharp platform stilettos, which well-trained consumer would plump for footwear this clumpy, this … ugly?
Thousands, apparently. With their practical, natural and – compared to most shoes from previous years – rather modest qualities, clogs have chimed, like no other shoe this season, with the post-recession predilection for simplicity and authenticity. As Will Galgey, the man who tracks trends at The Futures Company, says: “Consumers have shown a strong desire to embrace products and brands that in some way feel more natural; the wood and leather on clogs feels very earthy. Now people have a much greater sense of being more reserved, introverted and considered in their choices. Clogs are a good representation of that and an antidote to the pre-recession excess and exuberance.”
It helps when there’s a significant celebrity backer, too. Gracing the cover of the March edition of British Vogue was Alexa Chung, fashion’s new paradigm of down-at-heel beauty, wearing the utilitarian uniform – the boyfriend jacket, the androgynous white shirt, the turned-up jeans and those Chanel clogs: brown leather mules, sides stamped with glossy brass studs, uppers licked with brick-thick wooden soles.
Chung’s corroboration of the trend that Chanel spearheaded was enough, according to Vogue.com, to stimulate a 200 per cent hike in sales for the wooden shoe on eBay. The clog, emerging on the catwalk in September, had spread like a sartorial virus come spring, infecting every layer of the fashion food chain from Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Céline, to Spanish shoemaker Pedro García, department store stalwart Kurt Geiger, and shoe destination for the masses, Clarks.
“Once considered clunky and unattractive, the classic form has been revived with an appealing softness,” says Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, the buying and creative director at Kurt Geiger. “Combining the clog style with the trend for mid-height heels has meant two of our styles, the ‘Jada’ and ‘Jola’ (both £160), sold out within a week of hitting our stores.” As for Russell & Bromley, their ‘Topnotch’ clog (£85.50) provoked a waiting list, a sell-out, and an ensuing repeat of the style in various different fabrics and colours. At luxury retail site www.my-wardrobe.com, chief executive Sarah Curran reported an unprecedented demand for the Ugg clog, which sold out within hours of going live on the site. “It was just a matter of when. Chanel made the clog both wearable and fashion-forward,” she says.
While Chanel may have created a credible clog, and the high street leveraged its halo effect to full advantage, not everyone is convinced. Fashion-forward might be eminently viable for Alexa Chung and her under-25 acolytes, but the frisson of novelty is distinctly lacking for many women who have witnessed the trend before (perhaps on more than one occasion). Harriet Quick, fashion features director at British Vogue, says: “Clogs come in and out of fashion – remember the pony skin Marni ones in the late 1990s? They are always appealing but deeply uncomfortable and, I think, made for their original geoscape – the flat Netherlands and not windy, bumpy London.”
Despite trendsetter Phoebe Philo’s grown-up sportswear manifesto at Céline, in which clogs were championed as the shoes for a new utilitarian approach to dressing, the impracticality of wearing a four-inch lump of wood for a shoe is not lost on the working woman. “I had a pair of clogs in the early 1990s when they were in fashion. They gave me blisters,” says an unenthused Maggie Campbell, a music rights lawyer based in the City of London. “I don’t see why anyone would wear a shoe that looks clumpy and remedial as a fashion item. They look slightly hausfrau-ish, and unlike heels, make you walk in a heavy-footed way. Not a good look for the boardroom.”
Confined to the hippy weekend wardrobes, however, and as an alternative to the oft-repeated gladiator sandal, clogs, say two cult shoe designers, have an important place. Robert Clergerie, the Parisian shoemaker who has been producing them since the 1990s, believes they are enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the sustainable fashion movement. “Clogs are made of wood, a natural material linked to the trend for the protection of the environment. The last time they were in fashion was in the 1960s and 1970s, during the first environmental and hippy movement.”
Combined with a maxi dress and a good sense of balance, “there’s something wonderfully visceral about a wooden-soled shoe”, says British shoe designer Rupert Sanderson. “It’s the mix of the peasant and the passeggiata.” Over to you, Alexa.
ESPADRILLES, MOCCASINS AND WEDGES
Spring shoes for her
The clog isn’t the only footwear favourite having an unlikely renaissance: moccasins, espadrilles and half-wedges are similarly staging a comeback everywhere from Roger Vivier and Prada to Kurt Geiger and Office, writes Elisa Anniss.
“While some designers take a while to come up with new shapes for mid-heels, it is easy to pull out old classics like espadrilles and cork wedges, which are well-suited to this season’s nautical trend,” notes Jane Drysdale, buying director at Office, who attributes the trend to a backlash against overly fussy sky-high footwear and a growing demand for shoes that are relatively down-to-earth.
Indeed, Robert Clergerie has revived an espadrille-inspired style based on a 1940s wartime silhouette (£175), while Rafael Castañer, the Spanish espadrille specialist, estimates they will sell 400,000 pairs for spring/summer 2010 – 10,000 more than last summer.
Meanwhile, Matches buying director Bridget Cosgrave is championing low and mid-height wedges – “demi-wedges” – that she says can be traced back to the 1970s. “Stella referenced her mother Linda McCartney with shoes that seem inspired by a fusion of Scholl and Birkenstock but have a contemporary, cool twist,” Cosgrave says (prices from £315), adding that Céline’s demi-wedges (£578), although lower than wedges have been recently, are slightly less “sensible” than Stella’s version.
Browns has a demi-wedge by Balenciaga (£475) that stands at two-and-a-half inches and features a stingray panel. “The reason these appealed is that they have a certain youthfulness about them and could look great with a silk shift and a little leather jacket,” says Browns accessories buyer Pam Brady, who adds that lower heels are “flattering and more modern than your boring ballet pumps.”
London-based shoe designer Beatrix Ong agrees: though she has enjoyed success with ballet pumps in the past, she is now producing moccasin boat shoes as her signature basic (£138). “Rockett, our updated coloured deck shoe, has been so successful that it forms part of our permanent collection,” she says. “As with our penny loafers, they add a touch of nostalgia, a nod to my generation’s childhood. Yet they are relevant today because of their quirkiness and edgy, geek cool.”
Spring shoes for him
It’s not just women’s wear that has rediscovered the espadrille this season; the peasant shoe once bought for a few pesetas from a sea-front store in Spain has also become a cult hit in the luxury men’s wear market. From Ralph Lauren to Armani, Prada to Hermès, the original woven straw sole and canvas upper has had an injection of designer cool, writes Josh Sims.
“Classic espadrilles have that warm climate and café culture sewn into them,” says Oliver Tomalin, director of British espadrille boutique Love Espadrilles (pairs start from £14.95). “Put a pair on and you automatically feel like slowing down and kicking back.” They also, as Michael Hibbit, founder of Ropey Soles, the Basque Country-based makers of traditional espadrilles (prices from £11.99), says, provide a more practical, and heat-sturdy, alternative to classic deck shoes.
In addition, he points out, standard espadrilles are eco-friendly and boast a rich heritage. First worn in dusty fields, then by fishermen on the French Riviera in the 1920s, they form an integral part of the season-in, season-out nautical trend.
Yet for a man more used to leather loafers than loose summer slip-ons, espadrilles may be a challenging prospect. “Yes, espadrilles are the Citroën 2CV of shoes: they’re cheap, they work in hot weather, and you can get them in any colour. But they are incredibly hard to pull off,” says British shoe designer Tim Little. “Espadrilles only seem to work in their natural setting. They look great on a man wearing a battered pair while working in parched fields. On a pasty-faced man in the city, they can look ridiculous in the way that wearing a sombrero might.”
Love Espadrilles’ Tomalin concedes that brighter colours and patterns may require a braver male customer, while French footwear brands String Republic and B-Sided have addressed the issue with trompe l’oeil effects designed to make espadrilles look like sneakers.
For others, the simplicity of espadrilles makes them one of the most promising summer options. As photographer and fan Dennis Sterne says, “Flip-flops keep your feet cooler but aren’t very manoeuvrable. Espadrilles are a good compromise and, at a push, in plain, neutral colours can look presentable.” Besides which, adds Michael Hibbit, they have one thing definitely going for them: “They’re a darn sight easier for a man to pull off than a pair of Crocs.”