Evolv­ing Her­itage

The site houses a show­room and will serve as an in­cu­ba­tor for de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tions for the brand’s Birken­stock 1774 col­lec­tion.

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY KATYA FORE­MAN

Birken­stock chris­tens an of­fice in the City of Light.

Not all creative tan­gos will nec­es­sar­ily lead to a com­mer­cial col­lec­tion, said ceo Oliver Re­ichert, who likes to be se­lec­tive about his part­ner­ships. “This is the lux­ury sit­u­a­tion of a brand which stands on healthy feet.”

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.”

A style from the Il Pel­li­cano cap­sule for the Birken­stock1774 col­lec­tion.

A raf­fia-in­spired style fromthe Il Pel­li­cano cap­sule for the A style from the Il Pel­li­cano cap­sule for the Birken­stock 1774 col­lec­tion.

Oliver Re­ichert

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