Widening perceptions: Birkenstock’s example

Nowadays, I think it is not easy to acknowledge how much the social identity of class shapes our perception of others through clothing. By means of a brand we choose to wear, we manifest a social status, and we silently give room to pre-conceptions.

Let me make an example: what would you think when you look at people wearing Nikes? Would you even notice it? Instead, what would you think of them wearing Gucci’s slippers? We would certainly, although unconsciously, fit them in with a specific social class. 

When I was at school, I remember seeking after the latest model of the Prada shoes. If you wore them, it meant you belonged to the most exclusive and glamorous group who could afford them. This is the power of the symbolism and class differentiation behind brands. 

What do you thus think of Birkenstock’s latest collaboration with high-end brands such as Valentino, Rick Owens and Proenza Schouler? 

The brand Birkenstock has been, since its origin, a symbol of comfy, affordable shoes, and seen as a working-class piece. An attempt to change this perception is witnessed by Anna Piaggi’s article on Italian Vogue (June 2006 – page 121 – from Vogue Archive) where an image shows Birkenstock shoes embellished with glittering applications. This alteration gives them a more fashionable twist, and can be perceived as an attempt to uplift a well-established working-class piece, through, and I quote, “a re-work-in-progess”.

Vogue Italia, June 2006, page 121 – Vogue Archive

The new designs on Birkenstock’s classic pieces are an example of how culture and class diversity bring innovation and question perceptions. 

Even though this shoe is originally associated with a working-class piece, thanks to co-branding it is reinterpreted through designers’ views and thus exalted. As a result, that very same footwear can become appealing for a more high-end consumer who would never consider buying a pair of Birkenstock.

Birkenstock collaboration with Valentino
at Valentino A/I 2020 Man


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