Despite its dowdy image in the eyes of some, Birkenstock has found itself occasionally straying under the fashion spotlight, with the company’s sandals and slides having been reinterpreted by labels and designers such as Opening Ceremony, Rick Owens, and Concepts, as well as now-closed Parisian concept store colette in 2017.
Critic-at-large Cathy Horyn traveled to Germany with photographer Juergen Teller to profile the footwear company for The Cut, examining how the brand’s cork-and-leather sandals are made and speaking to Birkenstock CEO Oliver Reichert about the brand’s success. Reichert, as it turns out, is quite an outspoken guy, likening mooted collaborations with Supreme to “prostitution” and proclaiming, “I don’t give a shit about fashion.” It’s quite the read.
In the meantime, here are a few takeaways from Horyn’s discussion with Reichert. For more, head over to The Cut.
On turning down a collaboration with Supreme, which wanted to put logos on sandals
“There’s no benefit for us except prostitution, because this is just prostitution.”
On the Birkenstock design
“If you talk to Karl Birkenstock, 82 years old, sitting in his house in Austria, getting more and more negative, he is the godfather of this absolutely design-hating, anti attitude — to say that nothing is designed. It’s about function.”
“I don’t give a shit about fashion. Fashion is, pfffttt, what is fashion? Inditex [owner of Zara] is doing fashion 12 times a year. What is this nonsense? But I know people are hungry for pure things. And there’s a huge crowd of people heavily believing in and loving this brand. And it’s not because of the nice people working there, because there are no nice people. And it’s not because of the marketing, because there’s no marketing. There’s nothing. It must be the product. Because they do everything wrong — everything! — I’ve met so many people who said, ‘Yeah, I tried to call your company in 1983, 1989, and nobody was answering.’”
“Is there any chance that I will get somebody like a Karl Lagerfeld? Maybe. But is Karl Lagerfeld the gravedigger of Chanel or the god of Chanel? Because what’s after Lagerfeld? I mean, it’s a serious question. Who will fill this gap when he is gone? I think the problem is we try to focus creativity on a very small group of people. It’s not working. My guess is it’s better to be around in the world, invite people to creativity, and you can pick what is fitting to the brand and what is not fitting.”
On working around the world with local creatives
“I think this is the future for corporations. Do very few collaborations, but locally.”
On maintaining quality
“Other brands have completely different benchmarks than we do. They’re not testing anything. We’re testing everything, every leather, because we don’t trust the trade-offs.”
On Birkenstock being beyond fashion
“It’s less painting, it’s less color, but it’s more emotion.”
You can read the whole profile in The Cut.