maggiealderson

Vurspring durch Technik Chic

In Shoes on September 29, 2013 at 4:01 pm

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Which three brands do you think I’ve bought the most pairs of shoes from over the years? Well, Prada is probably first, but after that you’ll be surprised. They’re all German: Birkenstock, Haflinger and Worishofer.

Apart from their country of origin there are two things which these three brands share, which make them appealing to me. The first is that their shoes are based on comfort and utility. These are shoes designed for feet and for walking, rather than for style and posing.

And the odd thing is, that in the spirit of that phrase of the 20th century Modernists ‘form follows function’, although ugly and ungainly when compared to, say, a Prada shoe designed to delight the eye, there is something aesthetically pleasing about them.

It was an American architect, Louis Sullivan, who came up with that sound bite, but I’ve always associated it with a German institution: the Bauhaus art school, the early 20th century cradle of Modernism, reigned over by Walter Gropius.

His philosophy, which Sullivan put into words so well, is that things which are designed simply to do what they are required to do with the greatest efficiency and no unnecessary fuss will naturally please the eye. Plug ugly Birkenstocks, in the Gizeh style (even the names are fugly…) oddly please mine.

BirkenstockThis most practical of German shoe brands was the first of these utility shoes I allowed myself to buy, long after secretly admiring them on my acupuncturist back in the late 1980s. I couldn’t let myself buy them then, as they were just too strongly associated with vegan healthwear.

In fact the only shop where you could buy them in London in those days was the Natural Shoe Store, where the shoes very strongly resembled the food eaten by its customers. Brown and good for you.

Heidi-Klum-s-sandals-Birkenstock-Gizeh-daughter-wears-Birkenstock-sandals

I finally gave in to my secret desire when I saw them in black patent on Sydney’s Oxford street twelve years ago. I’ve bought a new pair every summer ever since. This year’s are orange patent and very fine.

Having become addicted to the comfort of the cork sole in summer, I then discovered Haflinger clogs, which have a similar arch-supporting cork sole, but thicker, so you get a bit of a Sarkozy lift.

unbraided

The top of the Haflinger clog is felted wool, which makes them beautifully cosy through the English winter. They are my house shoes, perfect for hours standing cooking on my cold, tile-floored kitchen. I might wear them out to the corner shop, but no further.

I did wonder if I’d gone too far down the utility shoe route the first time I bought a pair, but stopped caring what they looked like once I discovered how comfy they are. And my fears about their aesthetic credentials were assuaged one weekend when my friend Caroline Burstein – of the legendary Browns boutique family – came down to the coast one weekend wearing her Haflingers.

My next discovery, Worishofers, aren’t quite as ugly as the other two shoe brands, but are definitely utility shoes, designed for comfort in wearing.

worishofer-251-wedge-mule-red-leather

The first time I saw them was in a small pharmacy near my mother-in-law’s house in Belgrade. They caught my eye among the Scholl sandals and the plastic clogs, because there was something sexy about them in a pervy way, the raised heel of the cork wedge sole, in a mule style, and the punctured leather cross strap hinting at a lady who liked to be comfortable, but would never give in to frumpery.

I immediately wanted to buy them, but stopped myself, thinking I must be such an addicted shopper, I had to snap up whatever whatever was available in any given situation – even if it was orthopaedic shoes.

The next time I saw them was in an achingly cool hipster shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York…

So it turned out I wasn’t the only one who found these shoes oddly appealing. I immediately bought a pair and found they are a summer dream shoe. Very comfie, with a good lift and a certain MILF cheekiness, with the cool credentials of being a utility brand.

maggie-gyllenhaal

Which is why so many celebrities have been snapped walking the summer city streets in them. And with this new success, like Birkenstocks, they are now becoming available in groovy new finishes, such as leopardprint, although I think I will stay loyal to the red, mule style for life.

Which I will be able to do because the other crucial detail these three German shoe brands share is that they all keep their most popular styles going, year after year.

kirsten-dust-en-Worishofer

I do wish companies at the slightly more fashion end of things would do this. I know in store shopper interest is peaked by novelty, but I think repeat purchases is a lucrative market at lot of brands miss out on. And with online shopping they could showcase the new lines in store and sell the permanent range on line.

If only TopShop still did the Martha jeans I so loved, but that’s it, one season, then gone. Likewise my perfect sleeveless silk high-summer dress, by Saint Tropez. The only chance I have of getting another of those is to have it copied in Singapore. Boo.

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But having consigned the last pair, knackered and battered to the bin after two years hard wear, I’m about to order my fourth pair of grey felt Haflinger clogs. As long as they keep their side of the bargain, these three shoe brands have got me for life.

I just have to decide whether to go braid or no braid… and I think I’m leaning to braid this year.

Which items do you buy on repeat? Or wish you could…

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  1. I like Merrell clogs, have been wearing them for about six years now. You can order them online, via Amazon or Shoebuy but you will get charged import taxes etc. I have always bought mine in the United States. Where do you get your Halflinger ones from?

    • I’ve bought my Haflingers from various outlets including the aforementioned Natural Shoe Store, also Oxford covered market and online. As a kid I wore Swedish wooden clogs, so I think my love of the style goes back to then

  2. Hi Maggie. Excited to see a new post – I’ve missed you! For me, definitely Birkies. My daughter (4 1/2) and I have matching silver ones this summer.

    • I think they’re amazing for kids. My daughter has the same as me in a gorgeous kiwi green. And sorry I was off line so long. It’s not writing the post, it’s the uploading of it which takes so long and I’ve been running around a lot… x

  3. Ugg boots are my winter house shoe, havianas are my summer everything shoe and bonds singlets. All have been repeats purchased for at least 14 years- 24 years for the singlets!

  4. This Melbourne winter I splurged and bought myself a charcoal cashmere jumper from NY label Inhabit and I wish I could buy it in the white and navy as well. Even on the coldest day, I can throw it on top of a silk tunic and leave the house without the need for a bulky coat. And it has the loveliest detail with pointelle stripes and ribbing along the lower arm to stop it from looking like just any knitted jumper. In love!

    • That sounds like heaven. That’s one of my most closely held philosophies – invest your big shopping $$$ in the things you wear every day. That’s how you get real value from a garment. I think you should buy the navy. The white one would be a laundry-mare x

  5. I have difficult feet and shop in a ‘special shoe shop’. Thankfully, amongst the hundreds of pairs of awful orthopaedic-looking shoes, I have managed to find a couple of pretty cool pairs of – very comfortable – shoes. But I think that’s more by accident than design. B Shoes in particular. However, I love my Birkenstocks. The first pair I bought was a very-practical black Mayari pair which were so incredibly comfy but they always looked very ‘clodhopper-y’. Now I have a white pair – same style, same size – but they look quite ‘delicate’. I wonder how that’s possible??? When I first saw the picture of the red Worishofers I immediately thought ‘old lady Homipeds’ and still think young people in them look like they’ve borrowed their grannies shoes. Mind you, the leopard print ones look like a pair of wedges I had in the 70s – and how convenient to be able to alter the straps as your feet swell in the summer. I definitely favour function over form, but I agree that ugly things eventually start to look good if enough good-looking people start to wear them.

    • Oops, I missed what the question was first time ’round. Repeat buying. I cannot understand why a company would change a product that is selling really well. The logic is beyond me. Surely you should give the people what they want. That makes complete sense. Bendon Trouser Briefs are my repeat buy – online from Zodee – and X-Socks. The thing about Birkenstocks that makes them sooo good is that the footbed is the same for every pair – and let’s face it you could probably tie them on with a piece of string and they’d still be comfortable – so you can change the style, colour, material every year and KNOW they’ll fit just the same. And that makes online buying easy, too.

  6. I still have a vexed relationship with my Birkenstocks – purchased when I had a back injury. My physio was trying to ban the havainana’s and really wanted me in a closed in shoe so Birkenstocks were a compromise in a hot Sydney summer. But I can’t quite get away from the fugly image- maybe because my calves aren’t as slim as the celebs who make Birkenstocks look cool. I’m tempted by the haflingers as a house shoe in winter but never EVER will I wear the worishofers!

    • Interesting – I think they’re a lot less ugly than the other two styles. So why is that? Too old lady?

      • I remember my mother wearing them – or something very similar. My mother was very enamoured with the sholl sandal and therefore I have a lifelong horror of anything that looks even vaguely orthopaedic.

        I must say I am quite tempted by a silver pair of Birkenstocks though…

      • The Scholl was such a moment, wasn’t it? I always longed for some and then found them impossible to walk in.

  7. PS I (inadvertently) have that dress that Lindsey Lohan is wearing. How cool am I? Just need the shoes now!

  8. My shoe problems have been solved forever. This is because I have discovered a Spanish brand which are both comfortable, stylish and…beautifully made. Pikolinos! I live in Sydney and there are a few suppliers of this make around, but I buy them through e-bay, so I can snap up a bargain as well. I have around 50 pairs, some duplicates of my favourites. I know that size 40 will fit like a glove, so I have boots, flats, wedges and to my delight a Pikolinos version of a Birkie in a gorgeous red wine leather. They make bags too, so I have quite a few of those. I have a feeling I am a collector of said Pikolinos as my heart races when I see a pair that I haven’t got on e-bay. I have to start bidding straight away. Of course the trouble is I am running out of room to store (display?) them.

    • You are a lucky woman to have made this discovery of your shoe answer! I love the ethos of the company – but I’m not sure the styling is for me. I’m going to check them out in real life. They could be the answer for the sandal I need which is a little more dressy than a birko, but still walkable and not ‘for best’.

  9. Second hand Doc Martens. Also wish I had the cash to afford Fluevogs. http://www.fluevog.com

    Those leopard print ones look swell!

  10. Hi Maggie
    I’m struggling with this. They are sooooo ugly. While they might look funky on young and beautiful things, on women of a certain age they look ‘medicinal’ and orthopaedic. I’m still waiting for shoes that are beautiful and comfortable, rather than one or the other. Even the ubiquitous ballet flats are terrible for feet so even though fashion has embraced flats, it still hasn’t solved the form/function dilemma.
    Sigh…will keep wearing my beautiful shoes during the day, changing to flats when any real walking is required. Yes, my flats are German and comfortable, but so very ugly.

    PS? I’ve missed you, too.

    • One thing Miuccia Prada has always understood is the point where extreme ugly has a beauty, whereas ‘tasteful’ is just dull. I know what you mean about the irony being lost with age, but it depends how you style them up. You have to really mean it and not wear them apologetically. That’s why I get my Birkos bright and shiny and make them a focus of my summer outfits. xxx

  11. Hi Maggie, lovely to read your blog again. I have been enjoying your holiday tweets too.

    I discovered paradise last week. I walked through to the backroom of a local shoe shop and found paradise. A sea of exciting, stylish and COMFORTABLE shoes, presided over by ladies of a certain age. Heavenly.

    So I bought some sleek black indoor/outdoor Ziera slippers (because I am too slack to change into clogs to feed the horse etc). Next was a bright red pair of Kroten sports (as if) /walking shoes. I need something to wear to the Melbourne Show: we always go to the Garryowen equestrienne turnout and I usually feel like death by the end of the day. Perfect result – happy calves and feet!

    My repeat purchases are not exciting – black and charcoal fine woollen skivvies and jumpers from Sportscraft and/or Country Road. Good wardrobe basics.

    I love M&S undies: I know I should go local and have tried, but always gravitate back to M&S. Which reminds, me, my husband is in England at the moment so I should put in a shopping order. But on second thoughts, maybe I should just do it online…

    I LOVE the Halflinger clogs. Definitely go the braid. Show me a bit of Tyrolean style and I turn all mushy. I lived in a little village in the Tyrol many years ago. Curse the day (ha ha) I met my husband there.

    I must look up what your blog title means in English. The only German sentence I know translates to “I am a good girl”. Very useful back in the day…

    xx

  12. I am a big Birkenstock fan, I buy a pair almost every summer, so comfy. Currently sporting the gizeh in red. I have he grey felt cloggy looking birks for winter as my slippers, love them!

    • It was actually the cloggy birko I first got obsessed with on my acupuncturist, but I thought it would go on a bit if I went into that in the post. Love those, but find the Haflingers even more comfortable, if you can imagine that nirvana… x

  13. Gizeh Birkenstocks are my repeat purchases. I am contemplating what colour to buy this year. Love, love (or as fashion says ‘I die’) the Worishofers, but as I am of a certain age, would not be able to wear them with youthful irony.
    I say get the clog with the braid trim.

  14. I remember you posting a comment ages ago about how Birkenstocks dried out your feet causing cracked heels. You threw all yours out. Are the new ones better?

  15. Hey – love the Haflinger clogs (new to me, can you believe it Maggie?!).
    Also, I have to disagree with those who think ladies of a certain age can’t wear Birkenstock. My mum is in her 60s and looks brilliant in hers (she has many pairs).
    My dad (70), on the other hand, is addicted to Crocs. So much so that he thought of starting a blog called ‘Croc Monsieur’ (do you see where I got my love of puns from?!). I have to admit, he’s the only adult in the world that manages to look good in them…

    • Croc Monsieur is HILARIOUS. How does he style them up? And what colour does he wear? The first person I ever saw wearing them had bright red ones and he looked like a mad Smurf. x

  16. My own problems with 50s’ aching feet and over-pronation a few years ago led me to ‘comfort shoe’ shops and the first time I entered one I ran out screaming and got orthotics instead. Shudder. Then I discovered the NAOT brand (made in Israel, available here in Sydney). I tell ya, they’re a miracle. I even found a chunky purple sandal with small rhinestones that I at first thought too ugly to contemplate. But then, the more I looked at them, the more I decided I’d try to rock the ‘ironic’ look, eg chunky sandals with a nice frock. Well, I think it works. As for winter slippers, I found some in an Italian Leichhardt shoe store. Not dissimilar to your clogs, they’re made in the Tyrol with Oz merino felted wool and great arch support inside. Light as a feather, bright red AND with a bonus Edelweiss buckle.

  17. Geoxx flats….I have them in black, beige and red…..a quilted “Chanel Style” ballet flat and plain – and another pair with a patent toe. I’ve lost track of how many pairs I’ve got (or have had.) Super-comfy and look like a classic ballet flat. I have literally walked miles in them and the shaped rubber sole (but doesn’t look like it) is really cushioning.
    I also recently bought a pair of Sandler “comfy heels” (just made that name up, not sure what they are properly called) They look a bit like a Mary Jane – with a nice “kitten heel” (even though it’s some sort of rubber sole), but with black opaques and a full skirt, look a bit retro (I’m hoping in a good way). I work at an Art Gallery with Granite, slate and timber floors and I positively bounce around. I think they look ok…. But I’m hoping I’m not just getting old…..
    Other than the Geoxx flats, my repeat buys have been Furla bags….classic, beautifully crafted and go with anything. I have a black and taupe classic daytime top-handle, and a couple of totes. LOVE them! (I buy online, on special from BlueFly or Gilt)
    Missed you, but glad you are back! Cx

  18. I have 5 pairs of saltwater sandals, but expect to buy more as I’ve only worn them 3 summers now. The 4th summer is nearly here. My Camper Woody ankle boots got me through winter and I can’t wait to buy more! P.s. I have really wide feet so these are the only shoes that fit. Birkenstocks fit but they always hurt my feet even after months of wear. I really miss the old Bloch ballet shoes, they were much better quality. I want to try Re-mix wedges which are proper vintage styles, but they look narrow. 😦
    p.s. love the Worishofers

    • The Worishofers totally ROCK. I’m sad that quite a few of my lovely commenters don’t ‘get’ them. The granny aspect is exactly what makes them so great… x

      • What I find is that after my initial reaction – ‘granny shoes’ – I keep thinking about them and then bit by bit they become ‘normalised’ and then ‘want’ then ‘must have’…..
        I’ve been all over the internet to see if Worishofers are available in Australia – but no luck. Any suggestions?
        Does anyone else remember ‘granny sandals’ in the mid 70s? They were comfy and so cool. Too cool for school – but I wore them there anyway.

      • I’m so glad you’ve made that journey… I don’t know about Aussie suppliers. I think it might have to be online. Of course there’s the risk of them not fitting, but the good thing is they’re not very heavy, so the postage won’t be too terrible. Let me know if you get some!

  19. When I find a nice flat, comfy black work shoe then I repeat buy for the season until it is no longer manufactured. Comfy and durable ones are hard to come by!

  20. I know someone with black patent birkenstocks they do look really good. I bought a knockoff birkenstock a few years ago and wore them to death now maybe for the real thing. Summer seems to have arrived inSydney though it’s only October. Bush fires already on the outskirts of Sydney

    Are those wooden soled Scholls still made? havent seen them in years .Ii used to wear my grandmothers scholls whenever I visited her .

  21. Dear Maggie, huge Birkenstock fan and I can imagine myself in the cord clogs in winter with socks at home working, but the Worishofers…not convinced I’m afraid. I am sure they are incredibly comfortable but I think they are giving me a granny from the 70’s/K mart “my feet are killing me” flashback. Kirsten Dunst could look good in a soggy paper bag so of course she can get away with anything even granny elevator flip flops. So lovely to have a post from you here again. Prince Harry in town looking very handsome in his whites & red beret with all his work mates for huge ships international round up Navy anniversary festivities on Sydney Harbour…weather co operating beautifully. BX

  22. My best ever shoes were a pair of cream Ecco loafers from 5 years ago, which were as comfortable as slippers and went with everything… and they haven’t made them since. They now sell the Cuno and the Osan which are similar but just not right. I never feel like I have the right shoes anymore!

  23. Hi Maggie

    This blog has stayed on my mind – perhaps because shoes (and aching feet) are such a big part of my life. I’ve realised what’s missing from the shots of those ugly German slides – knee high stockings, preferably thick support hose, in pale beige. They would perfect the look!

    Cheers!

  24. I love my Arche knee-high boots (two so far, red and chocolate – I buy a new pair every year or two), Geoxx ballet slippers (I bought three all at once when they were on sale – soft red, black and lavender, which has turned out an amazing neutral), and soft red Camper sandals – I can walk miles in them with no problems.

    Birkenstocks hurt my feet, and as a size 40, my feet already big enough without making them look even larger. I have a pair of the felt slippers in green with felt flowers (from the late-lamented Aherns, when they still existed in WA), but I stopped wearing them when I sprained my ankles falling down the stairs. Just not safe enough in a 2 1/2 story house :-(.

    I like buying multiples of things that really work for me – I’m secure enough in my style to do that, and cynical enough to know that they’re unlikely to be there next year.

    • Buy it when you see it – I’m a multiple shopper too. If it works, it works. SOmetimes in clothes I buy two sizes, both in case of weight gain/loss (a permanent feature of my life) and for different effects.

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Maggie Alderson

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