Birkenstok + Saint Martins collab
Birkenstock has been a long-time fave among many, from streetwear fans with an affinity for the 'ugly shoe' aesthetic to active outdoorsy folks to the orthopedically-oriented elderly. However, the household-name brand soared to new heights amid the pandemic, for more reasons than one.
Bringing in a whole new wave of comfy-couture in popular fashion, global lockdowns changed the way we dressed with an enhanced focus on sensation and quality, pushing us away from the fast-fashion culture of buying new pieces for every weekend adventure. Already established as the go-to comfort label for many, Birkenstock's heritage of premium quality pieces and sustainably sourced leather upped their game in the footwear scene ― creating the perfect platform to debut the brand's latest collab, after two years in the making.
In partnership with Central Saint Martins, a collection of students (now all graduated) were presented with the opportunity to bring their creative influence to one of Birkenstock's historic designs. Alex Wolfe, Saskia Lenaerts, Alecsander Rothschild and Dingyun Zhang dove into the project with the help of their course leader, Fabio Piras, as well as the college’s Fashion History and Theory students who assisted in exploring the brand's archive. The project included just one requirement: it must feature the brand's signature molded footbed, first designed as an orthopedic aid more than 250 years ago.
Already no stranger to experimental crossovers, previous Birkenstock collaborators include Rick Owens, Valentino, and Proenza Shouler ― but this free-reign project brings the iconic sandals to a new level. Creations include Wolfe's shin-length iteration of the brands 'Rotterdam Moto' sandal, which looks more like a sci-fi racing accessory with a sculptural build and colorful graphic print ― he says "I liked taking something serious and symbolic of safety, and contrasting it with something a bit more energetic, playful, like that motorcycle daredevil 100mph attitude.”
Meanwhile, Zhang's pillowy take on the 'Arizona' sandal elevated the classic Birkenstock comfort with futuristic outerwear aesthetics similar to the designer's signature oversized puffers. Rothschild approached the task with a deconstructed mindset, mixing materials and textures inspired by Brancusi sculptures to create dramatically winged sandals sculpted with three kinds of premium leather. “It was fun to challenge how the shoe looks and to see what you can do with it and how far you can take it." says the Danish designer, "What if it's a sculpture on the foot, in the most comfortable sandal?”
Beginning their post-grad creative careers in a landscape filled with uncertainty, the project has served as crucial stability for the young designers ― who not only had their designs put into production with their names embossed on each shoe, but received an additional financial stipend. Saskia Lenaerts, whose reimagination of the 'Milano' sandal drew on the pair's signature softness, emphasizes the importance of the experience: “The evidence is there that we're no longer students and we're capable of working with a brand on a major project like this."
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