Hush Puppies Embraces Heritage Trend

When it comes to retro dressing, Hush Puppies wants to get a leg up on the competition.

That’s why when the 50-plus-year-old comfort brand decided to create its heritage 1958 Collection — a men’s and women’s line that debuted for fall ’10 — it simply opened up its archives for inspiration.

“Because we have such a rich brand history, we’ve been very intentional in approaching the initial design work on 1958 as more of an archeological exploration than an exercise in reinvention,” said Cory Haberman, VP of global product development and design for Hush Puppies.

He added, “By drawing on past memories and keying in on positive perceptions of our heritage product, we’re able to filter current trends through the Hush Puppies lens and introduce a more fashion-forward consumer to the virtues upon which the brand was founded.”

For spring ’12, Haberman is paying homage to the company’s legendary Earl, a unisex slip-on style that has been reinterpreted with Hush Puppies’ signature suede and a palette of oranges and blues. “Put simply, it’s the shoe that the brand was founded upon,” said Haberman.

Retailing for $75 to $150, the higher-end 1958 Collection has found a spot in stores including Nordstrom, Soula in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Thom Brown in Boston.

Here, Haberman discusses the brand’s attempt to blend the old with the new.

What is the role of comfort in the 1958 Collection?
Comfort is an integral part of what has made Hush Puppies successful. We feel this new consumer will likely fall in love with the beauty and design of the 1958 product first, and then discover how comfortable it is. Comfort features include mesh linings for breathability, and lightweight and shock-absorbing expanded rubber outsoles. In heeled looks, [there are] shock-absorbing mini-platforms in the forefoot.

Are younger customers willing to embrace a brand labeled 1958?
It’s popular to be an iconic American brand with a rich heritage right now. We’ve found younger consumers are more interested in the brand than ever before. As far as the name is concerned, most of these consumers were born well after [that year], but they’re very sophisticated. They have a great interest in the iconic style and architecture that defines mid-century modernism. Our reverence for that period is, and always has been, reflected in the product.

How do the men’s and women’s products differ?
The men’s segment focuses on a tighter group of shoes, [with] a stronger connection to our original silhouettes. As we evolve it, we’ll continue to push that connection to offer a broader collection. Our women’s line is more diverse. While it features product closely related to our originals, we’ve broadened our offering to include heels, platform wedges, sandals and flats. It exhibits a perspective we feel is timely and appropriate, but also maintains a large degree of flexibility, [so we can] freshen the collection as trends change.

How are you marketing the line?
The spring ’12 campaign features [models in front of] a mid-century modern home in Michigan and a 1958 Impala, both of which evoke that simpler, relaxed way of life. The models are hip, young and styled in an effortlessly chic way that salutes a classic American way of dressing. At a grassroots level, we’ve retrofitted our 1958 Airstream to create a product showcase [for the line]. It is part showroom, part retail and consumer event spot. And it becomes a pop-up store wherever we park it.

Retro dressing is popular right now, but will the collection be valid when the trend fades?
[The 1958 Collection] wasn’t created to address the retro dressing trend but to remind the marketplace of the virtues that have made Hush Puppies a success since its launch: casual, stylish and authentic footwear that happens to be comfortable. That casual American style is something we feel will never go out of fashion. We see 1958 as a terrific opportunity for our designers to stretch their legs a bit and create product that challenges the current notions about Hush Puppies product.

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