Fashion month often feels like the Shoe Olympics. Stilettos, stacked heels, boots galore, teetering on the sidewalks outside shows. Who can stay in pumps the longest? All without looking like you’re in the excruciating pain.
New York Fashion Week, which always hits the city like a hurricane just after Labor Day, is the first round. There are crazy shoes, beautiful shoes, embellished shoes, insanely sexy shoes in satins, leathers and patents, with texture treatments, fringe, beading, buckles. All of these are usually on heels that are not in the least made with concrete pavement or real-life walking in mind.
Not this go around. Comfort sandals have pervaded the city streets during New York Fashion Week, happening right now. The “ugly” sandal, one of the biggest shoe trends of the spring and summer, refuses to go away and is on track to become one of the week’s biggest shoe trends, both on and off the runway.
It’s the latest chapter in the ongoing demise of the high heel, which was first unseated by the fashion sneaker — no longer a fad but now its own bankable category for retailers. The ugly sandal was everywhere on the spring ‘19 runways, and since then they have become a proven favorite of pavement-pounding editors. At this weekend’s shows, Birkenstocks were the preferred slide of the most tenured at Vogue. Others at major women’s magazines could be spotted wearing the Chanel version of the two-strap Arizona slide, or Prada’s homage to Teva.
On the runways, Teva is continuing its fashion takeover. Spring ’19 had collaborations with Anna Sui, Collina Strada, Sandy Liang and Tomé (plus they let Area decorate its Hurricane style with loads of beaded fringe). For fall ’19, Teva worked with Telfar, Collina Strada, PH5 and Greta Constantine. This week, for spring ’20, the roster included Gypsy Sport, Jonathan Cohen, Claudia Li, Matthew Adams Dolan and Anna Sui, whose retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design is partially sponsored by the brand. The brand has also been doing some influencer marketing with editors over the course of the week.
Phillip Lim showed his own version of a two-strap, Birkenstock-like slide, adorned with some of his signature hefty hardware. Tanya Taylor had Teva-like flatform shapes at her presentation on Sunday. And last week, Birkenstock announced its latest fashion collab, with Proenza Schouler, to be officially unveiled Wednesday at New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery.
Even Ada Kokosar, the stylist and creative director of Midnight 00, is trading in her PVC-ruffled, high-heel pumps for practical sandals. At a dinner celebrating her emerging brand Sunday night, she sported a pair of flatform sandals, a new style from her spring ’20 collection, which she will fully unveil in a few weeks at Paris Fashion Week. Kokosar used a ruffled silk to cover the typically sporty straps. It’s a complete 180 from her Shell style, a traditional pump silhouette.
Kokosar’s sandal already made an appearance onstage for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show Tuesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where a dancer-model in a black leotard gave a lot of sex appeal to the sport-like sandal. (The designer’s PVC shoes in a mule shape and lower heel also danced on the stage.)
Even the designers not showing “ugly” sandals have comfort in mind. On Saturday, Kate Spade creative director Nicola Glass showed not only a collaboration with Dr. Scholl’s (the brand’s Original slides got the Kate Spade treatment) but also flatforms and sneakers designed for walking. “It’s just the ease of walking,” she told FN backstage. “It’s more realistic, and that’s what my team and I wanted. It’s what we wear.”
Tory Burch has also been on a mission to create more comfortable shoes. The standout at her spring ’20 show was a Princess Diana-inspired polka dot shoe with a distinctly lower kitten heel. There were also more sneakers. “I hear it from women today, that they just want to wear kitten heels and smaller heels in general. Women want to be more comfortable,” Burch said after the show.
Burch also created the pair of flat sandals that I can’t bear to change out of this week. Her Adrien sandal from spring ’19 is a two-strap shoe with a cushioned flatbed over leather that I can walk in all day. What sealed the deal for me (a former jewelry editor and lover of like-minded embellished shoes) was the oversize gold-tone hardware that makes it look like I’m wearing beautiful vintage chain-link Verdura bracelets on my feet. It also happens to be the designer’s favorite sandal of summer 2019.
I’ve also taken a decorative approach to my own pair of Tevas, which I’ve been reluctant to wear during the workweek. After a quick trip to M+J Trimmings in midtown Manhattan, I did my own collaboration, adorning my simple black Hurricanes with vintage-inspired Swarovski crystal buttons. They’re already my favorite shoes of fashion month.