PARIS — After upping its fashion cachet on the wings of the “ugly” shoe trend and its first official designer collaboration with Rick Owens, now entering its second chapter, Birkenstock has opened a global office in the City of Light.
Baptized Birkenstock 1774 after the German brand’s founding year, the site on the Rue Saint-Honoré in the city’s first arrondissement measures around 2,700 square feet. It will serve as an incubator for developing innovations and collaborations for a new Birkenstock 1774 collection due to launch in March in New York as part of a retail format yet to be announced. The line will also be presented in the showroom of the Paris office.
However, despite fashion’s longstanding attachment to the ergonomic sandals — Birkenstocks even appeared in Marc Jacobs’ controversial grunge collection for Perry Ellis in the early Nineties, albeit not via an official collaboration, with Phoebe Philo’s fur-lined sandals, or “furkenstocks,” for Celine’s spring 2013 collection among other tributes — the move does not signify ambitions to transform Birkenstock, as the inventor of the orthopedic footbed sandal, into a fashion brand, the company’s chief executive officer Oliver Reichert told WWD.
“Birkenstock is beyond that,” said the executive, who said he’s looking to capture the city’s “global creative energy” and explore new perspectives “via a sum of relevant external viewpoints” from a range of domains, including design, art, architecture and hospitality. (The approach echoes the brand’s recent mobile, spatial retail Birkenstock Box concept created by architects Gonzalez Haase AAS, which involved partnerships with Barneys New York, 10 Corso Como in Milan and Rick Owens’ Los Angeles store.)
A capsule designed in collaboration with hotelier Marie-Louise Sciò and her family’s iconic retreat in Tuscany, Italy, the Il Pellicano, and dubbed Il Dolce Far niente, will be the first collection to be shown for sales appointments with retailers in the 1774 showroom. It will launch exclusively in partnership with Matchesfashion on May 15, rolling out to other retailers on June 15.
The seven styles include Birkenstock Arizonas in black satin and engraved leather evoking natural raffia with a handmade finish.
But while the idea for every collection launched under the 1774 banner is to “make a statement,” not all creative tangos will necessarily lead to a commercial collection, said Reichert, who likes to be selective about his partnerships. “This is the luxury situation of a brand which stands on healthy feet,” he said. (On the heated subject of whether or not Birkenstocks should be worn with socks, Reichert replied: “This is up to everyone’s personal taste — I wear my shearling Birkenstocks barefoot, even now.”)
Reichert, who describes the brand’s engagement with social media as “organic” and is not one for celebrity endorsements, said 1774 will have its own social channel.
Credited with fueling Birkenstock’s renaissance, the former techno-club owner, war correspondent and sports TV executive was faced with unraveling a corporate knot of 38 feuding companies, labels and family members when he came on board as a consultant for the brand in 2009, as reported. He set about heading up the restructuring of the company, taking up the role of ceo in 2013. Since then, he’s brought in a new global marketing director and international p.r. team.
Under his stewardship, Reichert said, Birkenstock has multiplied as a business over the last five years, adding manufacturing capacity and expanding into new markets, though the family-owned firm does not disclose revenues. The company’s sales breakdown is 70 percent women’s and 30 percent men’s sandals.
The brand’s global headquarters is located in Neustadt, Germany, with offices in Cologne and Munich.
Birkenstock manufactures its sandals in Germany in its own production facilities with an extensive amount of work done by hand. Every sandal undergoes 17 single production steps before the finished product is ready. The number of shoes produced ranges from 20 million to 25 million pairs a year.
The brand, which also sells bags, mattresses and a midtier natural cosmetics line, has a partnership with London’s Central Saint Martins. It also staged its first fashion show in Paris last June, even if Reichert seemed reluctant to officially link it to fashion week. “We’re not willing to say we’re part of Paris Fashion Week, but somehow we are,” he told WWD at the time. “We’ll be in the middle of the Tuileries with a huge tent at the Orangerie, in an area sort of shaped like the Birkenstock footbed. Male and female models will walk on a slightly elevated walkway….”
Perched on the sidelines, comfortably shod, in an era of cranking out collaborations and drops, Reichert, who likes to wait for the right authentic opportunity to present itself, described Birkenstock 1774 as “our answer to an overheated, over-commercialized industry that spits out meaningless logo [hook-ups] nonstop.”
“To me, fashion is not only the way we dress. Fashion is part of our culture, a source of inspiration and a mirror image of the zeitgeist,” he said. “But it’s also how we deal with the issues related [to] the industry, especially the conditions under which fashion is produced.”