Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ugg: the Look That Refused to Die

In December of last year, Kitson, a small chain of boutiques on the west coast of America, announced it was going out of business. The first Kitson store had opened back in 2000 on Robinson Boulevard, just on the edge of Beverly Hills; it was the kind of shop where you could impulse-buy a cupcake-printed tote bag or, during a crucial Hollywood breakup, “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie” T-shirts. The biggest tabloid stars of the early millennium – Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears – flocked to Kitson, and were often photographed by paparazzi as they walked out with the store’s signature baby blue shopping bags draped on their arms. Kitson was an ideal place to pick up the unofficial uniform of that era’s celebrity set: a candy-coloured Juicy Couture velour tracksuit and a pair of sheepskin-lined Ugg boots.

When Kitson, so emblematic of a certain pre-financial crisis excess, announced that it was closing its doors for good, it felt like the death knell to a ditzy and much-derided era. Many of the stars of that time – Lohan, for example – have lost their lustre, and leggings have replaced velour tracksuits as the modern woman’s errand-running outfit of choice. (The hot pink Juicy Couture sweats are now literally museum pieces: they will be on display at the V&A later this spring.) As a result, they have come to embody a particularly repellent cultural moment that everyone is glad to be over with. In 2012, while filming The Bling Ring – based on the true story of a gang of southern California teenagers who burgled the homes of celebrities (including Paris Hilton) in 2008 and 2009 – Emma Watson tweeted a picture of herself in character as Nicki, wearing a short-sleeved pink Juicy Couture tracksuit and a pair of Uggs. “Nicki likes Lip Gloss, Purses, Yoga, Pole Dancing, Uggs, Louboutins, Juice Cleanses, Iced coffee and Tattoos.”

Uggs are certainly ugly, or at least inelegant. They look like something Frankenstein’s monster would wear if he were an elf. The shapeless, unstructured boots, pulled on in a hurry, can make anyone look like a slob, which has made them the target of special scorn. For as long as Uggs have been popular, it hasn’t been hard to find someone furiously denouncing them. “Ugg boots are not sexy,” the Independent declared in 2003, “unless you’re Mrs Bigfoot on a lone mission across Antarctica to find Mr Bigfoot.” When wearing the boots, a writer at the online beauty magazine The Gloss complained, “there’s nothing to indicate that you don’t have square, hideous shoe boxes in place of human feet”. In 2015, one coffee shop on Brick Lane in east London even banned Ugg-wearers from its premises – calling the boots “slag wellies”.

And yet, over the years, plenty of odd and unflattering shoes – pool sliders, clogs, tall platforms – have met with the approval of the fashion establishment. The problem with Uggs wasn’t that they were ugly; it’s that they were common.

But a funny thing happened on the way to fashion’s graveyard of regrettable fads: the ubiquitous Ugg has not gone anywhere. Uggs have quietly lingered on since their heyday, unnoticed but omnipresent – once you start paying attention, you’ll be shocked to discover how many people are still wearing them. Walk down any high street and focus on footwear, and you will see an army of sheepskin boots coming at you. They are worn by mothers running errands in town and in the country, paired with denim cut-off shorts at rock festivals, worn by teenagers on Saturday shopping trips.

In the reception area at Ugg corporate headquarters in Southern California, there is a bound album filled with snapshots of celebrities wearing the company’s products. It is arranged in alphabetical order, with separate sections for women and men, and is the size of the September issue of a fashion magazine, or maybe a small phone book. Many of the photographs are from the brand’s peak cultural moment in the mid-2000s, including six different pictures of Blake Lively and four of Leighton Meester, wearing Uggs between takes on the set of Gossip Girl. But there are enough photos from the past few years to make it clear that Uggs remain a perennial off-duty uniform for the famous: Ariana Grande wearing classic boots at an airport, paired with a massive Louis Vuitton bag; Charlize Theron wearing the Cardy boot, whose knitted exterior is meant to resemble a buttoned cardigan; Emma Watson (again) shopping in a white pair; Rosie Huntington-Whiteley crossing the street wearing Coquettes (Ugg slippers shaped like a flat clog or a boot with the top sliced off, which can be worn indoors or out); Hugh Jackman and the designer Valentino (separately) wearing the Butte snow boot. Last winter, I spotted Grace Coddington, the revered creative director-at-large of American Vogue, striding into work in a pair of short black Ugg boots, paired with a CĂ©line bag.

The message of all these images – and perhaps the secret of Ugg’s apparently unstoppable success – is that if there is a dividing line between public glamour and private style, it might be a pair of cosy shearling boots. They are undeniably comfortable – soft and squishy and warm, as if your feet were in the embrace of someone who really loves you. The look and feel telegraphs a message of “I’m worth it” but also “this is me, off-duty”. At £150 a pair, they are neither cheap nor entirely out of range. They reside in the overlap of a Venn diagram for casual and indulgent.

Somehow Uggs, the boots that so many people loved to hate, have managed to defy the cruel logic of the fashion cycle and carry on – whether you approve of them or not.

Ugg has sold so many products – mostly footwear, but also clothing and home goods – that there are 3.7 items for every woman in America; 3.0 for every woman in the UK; 2.1 for Japan. (This doesn’t include the 2.5 million pairs of counterfeit Uggs have been seized since 2007.) After a brief dip earlier this decade – when the haters proclaimed the long-overdue death of the Ugg – sales are climbing again: in 2014-15, Ugg sales were up 12.6% on the previous year, to $1.49bn, according to the most recent earnings report from Deckers Brands, the California-based footwear company that has owned Ugg since 1995.

by Marisa Meltzer, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: The Guardian