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Friday, April 18, 2008
Comfy shoes are cool again
Hush Puppies have turned 50 and the company has learned its lesson: stay comfortable yet trendy with new styles
Lucia van der Post
Hush Puppies, that previously nerdy brand beloved of Kenneth Clarke, once the despised symbol of middle-aged suburbia, is alive and well and this year celebrates its 50th birthday. It's a wonderful story of survival, revival and longevity given that back in 1992 it was dying on its feet, about to go the way of typewriters, hairnets and Dralon sofas.
Way back in 1994, when it was selling only 30,000 pairs a year in the US, those in charge of the company were, in desperation, trying to make it more fashionable when Jeffrey Miller, a New York “cool hunter”, noticed that all the hip kids in Manhattan's East Village and SoHo were rummaging around in mom-and-pop shops for authentically nerdy Hush Puppies.
It was the company's eureka moment. There was still a need, they realised, for a comfortable casual shoe, and since it was Hush Puppies that had invented the genre (until they came along with a soft shoe in 1958, it seems that men needing to loaf about simply put on their oldest pair of day-to-day shoes), it required only minor reworking. The shoes were recoloured in bright, kitschy colours (Day-Glo red, green, purple, orange), prices put up - doubled almost overnight - and suddenly they were flying off the shelves. Shops that had refused to sell them, considering them “mature” shoes, were now begging for stock.
Fashion designers took note: in London Paul Smith started selling them, and Anna Sui bespoke-dyed them in bubblegum pink, lemon yellow and purple for one of her collections. Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Stone and fashionable gay men started wearing them. Hush Puppies had been ushered out of intensive care and into rude new health. A brand that had always been comfortable was no less cosy - but now it was also fashionable.
Fast-forward to today, and while the cool kids of Manhattan have moved on, Hush Puppies has taken to heart the lesson it learnt: you must keep the core classic (the shoe equivalent of the classic jean, the trenchcoat, the plain white shirt), but you have to surround it with excitement and innovation to keep the customer coming in to see what's up and happening.
So for a brand that nearly died and is possibly astonished to find itself with a new lease of life, a 50th birthday is clearly well worth celebrating - and Hush Puppies is doing it in style. Like a casebook study from Harvard Business School, it's looking back to its archives and getting stylists to absorb the “story” of the brand, then refresh it, making sure that its historical roots are not forgotten. Rachel Fanconi, a British stylist who has helped such icons as Helen Mirren, Jessica Simpson and many others get their red-carpet looks together, has come up with a new range for women, while New York-based Phillip Bloch, whose best-known client is probably Halle Berry, was charged with revving up the men's collection.
Rachel Fanconi has come up with some very sassy numbers. Best of all are a couple of ankle boots: Divinity is all Victorian demure sexiness - little buttons and ribbons (£75, above), while Hadley is a slightly funkier suede bootie with a paisley-embossed heel and an organza ribbon-tie at the back (also £75). While the court shoes are perhaps slightly too retro for somebody like me who remembers them from first time round, younger customers may well take to open-toe, vintage-look court shoes such as Fallon (£60).
Meanwhile, for men Phillip Bloch has refreshed some classic brogues, giving them a slightly hipper look (£120 each) and, besides other casual numbers such as the loafers Hush Puppies was famous for, desert boots and deck shoes, he has also done some rather fabulous hip-hop trainers, using suede, patent and leather. The trainers come with exotic names - Pavo and Lynx - and cost £80 a time.
While the special celebratory ranges are going to be exclusively available at Selfridges later in the summer (Hush Puppies discovered way back in those troubled times that keeping outlets restricted was a good strategy for making themselves desirable), the spring and summer range is on sale now in all Hush Puppies' usual stockists all over the country. The prices are extraordinarily good and you'll find it does most of the coming summer styles: thong sandals, wedge sandals as well as easy, comfy court shoes.

Times Online- UK

by: Woodstock Candy


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