This season has seen a swathe of copycat sandals emerge from fashion brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Moschino, and Fendi. Some have fancy soles, but throughout, an identical silhouette keeps cropping up. Put any of them under the microscope and you’d see the double-strapped DNA of Birkenstock’s iconic Arizona, the summertime classic that started it all. Not only is the shoe having its time in the sun, but it’s the genesis of a whole smorgasbord of wanna-be one-ups.
Dare to compare the Arizona to Louis Vuitton’s Trainer Mule, Officine Creative’s Agorà 2, or and Valentino's Garavani Slide (et tu, Pierpaolo?). Not an identical match, sure, but there’s a clear through-line of two frequently buckled forefoot straps atop a low-profile (or platform) sole. Heck, Palm Angels’ sandal seemingly sports an actual Birk outsole, in case the inspiration wasn’t clear enough. Yes, throughout the entire luxury footwear biz, there’s a clear desire to be like Birk — and with good reason.
Birkenstock just had a huge year, pandemic be damned. “I think the world needs brands that stand for something beyond just a shoe, that give people emotional and maybe even spiritual comfort,” CEO of Birkenstock Americas David Kahan told Footwear News when the German company won the publication’s Brand of the Year award for 2020.
Whether it was for emotional or physical comfort, shoppers flocked to Birkenstock during and after quarantines, following the lead of well-heeled — literally — celebrities and affirming the brand’s place as the “official home-office shoe,” according to Birkenstock Group CEO Oliver Reichert. Business boomed and Birkenstock’s 2020 revenue surpassed its pre-pandemic results, success cemented by a sizable year-end investment from LVMH affiliates.
All of this means that Birkenstock became one of the big players in the footwear industry this season. This is far from the first time luxury footwear designers have imitated an original; consider all the high-end sandals clearly inspired by strappy hiking sandals or the rubber recovery slide. Still, the post-Birk posers are really only coming into their own now, despite Phoebe Philo’s best efforts a decade ago.
It wasn’t that long ago that Birkenstock was a blight on fashion akin to cargo shorts or any other elderly staple. Now, fashion’s foremost tastemakers (and even other formerly out-of-fashion brands) are falling over each other to walk the same path that the German sandal maker has trodden for years. It’s logical for the trend-conscious companies to keep abreast of shifting tastes, plumping their seasonal offerings with their own dual strap sandals for the sake of keeping with the times.
The thing is, the new wave of luxury lookalikes are especially inessential, given that Birkenstock is peerless. There’s no way to improve its basic shape or add something to its lineup that doesn’t already exist. It already does platforms, it already does luxury, it already did weirdo one-offs that have to be dug up from outlets. The imitators make things that are ostensibly fancier than the cork-soled Birk, but the basics aren’t getting any better.
Regardless of outside interests, ideologies, or investments, Birkenstock has been doing its own thing for decades and is likely to continue doing so for years to come. Yeah, they’ll do more elevated offerings from time to time, but even as the wider luxury market shifts its gaze to some other once-maligned shoe (flip-flops? Toe shoes?), Birkenstock will keep plugging away at its perfectly minimalist sandals. When all’s said and done, the Birkenstock Arizona will be the last sandal standing.