Thursday, July 9, 2020

Birkenstock’s Latest Collaborators? Forward-Thinking Graduates Of Central Saint Martins MA Program

Here’s news that’s going to come as no surprise to just about everyone who’s adapted to the new pattern of WFH and local grocery store forays: Birkenstock has been enjoying a pandemic boom. “Bullet-proof,” is the way CEO Olivier Reichert describes the solid, foot-cossetting appeal of the German staple in these days of domesticity. “It meets current needs more than ever, and stands for continuity and something highly valuable, especially at this moment. We can see demand growing.”

Reichert isn’t one to be content to put his feet up and watch the revenue rolling in, though. Cue Birks’ newest side-leap into the avant-garde, a collaboration with Central Saint Martins MA graduates, which gets its first viewing here today. The project has involved both designers and a research squad from the BA Fashion History and Theory course—one of the world’s educational training centers for fashion archivists of the future. “Working with students is understanding new talent, essential to any forward-thinking business,” Reichert believes. “An unfiltered expression of creativity creates energy throughout all our product divisions.”

The mission has been cooking in background development between the London-based students and the technical experts at Birkenstock HQ since 2018. “We started working first with the BA Fashion History and Theory Course to ensure we have an internal resource, an archive. This first phase also included the hire of our corporate archive staff. We were looking first at an informed base to then invite the whole MA Fashion course to develop their take on findings and our iconic styles.”

The energetic designs from four of the MA Class of 2020—who had their graduation show in February, just before lockdown—are a no holds barred burst of creativity that will hit stores next February, the footbeds embossed with their names. Guaranteed catnip for fashion cultists are the ‘Moto Sandals’ by Alex Wolfe, the student who incorporated chairs into his final collection—and had Vogue’s Hamish Bowles picking out his work as one of his most-enjoyed delights of the 2020 shows. “It’s a twist on Birkenstock’s orthopedic history,” says Wolfe, who followed up his line of research by looking at the crazy risks taken by extreme sports enthusiasts, and fusing that with Birkenstock’s classic Terra design. 

“I called it ‘Break a Leg,’” he laughs. “I got interested in BMX and Base Jumping, where these people launch themselves off skyscrapers and cliffs wearing winged suits or parachutes.” The outcome looks more like a cool boot than anything Birkenstock has ever produced. “I looked at forms which mimicked motocross shin braces, and medical leg-braces. Then I took the Birkenstock logo and warped and fractured it to make the print to wrap around the leg.”

Further designs by Saskia Laenarts, Dingyun Zhang, and Alecsander Rothschild imprinted with their own signatures will be released at the same time. In addition, there’s a trophy-piece which the Fashion History and Theory students rooted out from the company’s forgotten back-catalog, a re-colored retread of a pair of Birks from the ’90s with a diagonal cross-woven leather upper. Fresh creativity, and the push to be adventurous: it’s paid off handsomely, as far as Oliver Reichert is concerned. “What we see here is real innovation. The students were not just changing colors or materials, they created new shapes, new ways of looking at what our footbed really can be. We find the results very convincing indeed.”

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