This has been going around the blogs. NYTimes has a story about the rejuvenation of a few American shoe brands. Climb that pay wall.
Over the last few years, as heritage brands have been rediscovered by a new generation of customers, especially young men, labels once seen as relics of American work wear now have an unexpected cool factor, stocked by stylish boutiques and obsessed about on fashion blogs.
Of course this is not news to any of us, who are in the know, but it’s a great jumping off point to several of the issues surrounding this resurgence in American shoes. Putthison has a problem about confusing quality with “heritage.”
What bothers me about these pieces is the blurring of the line between quality and heritage. Florsheim has a rich heritage, but makes almost exclusively lousy shoes. Their best line is, when it comes to quality, OK. Fair
More on that in a bit. What I liked about the article was how we got to see from the companies’ perspective, rather than from the usual, rabid fashion fanboy perspective.
Just check out the design folks at Allen Edmond:
And it sounds like at least some of the brands are being cautious with their newfound fame, sticking to their traditional products and only cautiously expanding. There are four big concerns I have about the current shoe renaissance: first, will these brands, which are so hot now, eventually slide back to the back seat once the next big meta-trend hits the menswear universe; second, as putthison mentions, how do ideas of “heritage” and “quality” get deployed vis-a-vis the ultimate bottom line; third, how do we reconcile the previously unknown nature of these shoe brands with the fact that they are pairing up with larger, seemingly more corporate entities; and finally, what explains for this interest in quality or supposed quality?
I can’t bust out a dissertation here, but these are questions that I think about all the time, or at least whenever I’m not drooling over some Alden longwings. I, for one, would never have even heard of Alden were it not for my stint at J.Crew, the sometimes pariah of the menswear world (although I admit, I’m a moron). And people are more or less obsessed right now with the quality of a product. I’m not saying a pair of Allen Edmonds aren’t going to be seriously well-built, but I’m more interested in how the idea of quality, rather than quality as something truly measurable is really being bandied about. It probably has to do closely with the idea of heritage, as well. Are we menswear-ers guilt of fetishizing quality, heritage, along with these shoes?
Ok that’s enough lecture for now. Discussion section down below.