Let’s get one thing straight: Crocs are the ultimate ugly shoe. They are clumpy rubber horror shows with pores the size of nostrils and gargantuan snouts that make even the daintiest feet look clownish. Shaped like the inverted beak of the reptile for which they’re named, the Classic Croc is footwear’s answer to a grey and rainy day in December.
These spongy slip-ons were never meant to seduce with their looks. Comfort has always been their appeal, along with those large, breathable pores that serve as escape hatches for sweaty-foot smells.
Crocs have been resistant to the ugly shoe trend that has gripped Planet Fashion in recent years. They have celebrity fans in Mario Batali, Whoopi Goldberg, and Helen Mirren, but few other stars have dared to pad down public sidewalks in this Crosslite-soled, non-scuffing, reliably hideous cousin of the clog.
Unlike the fur-lined Birkenstocks that debuted in Céline’s Spring 2013 collection, followed by quasi-orthopedic sandals and sneakers in more recent seasons, Crocs never earned “It Shoe” status—not even after Christopher Kane sent the first designer Crocs down the runway a year ago, then another batch in February.
But if there’s one universal truth on Planet Fashion that we must accept, it’s never say never. Over the weekend, the ugliest of ugly shoes reached new heights with Balenciaga’s platform Crocs.
It’s one thing for Kane to take a liking to Crocs. The British designer's spring/summer 2017 collection featured marble-printed variations on the Classic Croc, blinged out with sparkly rock-mineral appendages that looked like they’d been plucked from a rather impressive geological collection. "I love that they are slightly awkward and might be perceived by some as ‘ugly,’" Kane said at the time, embracing Crocs' many haters.
Then came Kane's fur-lined Crocs in his fall 2017 collection, followed by this season’s limited edition collection of rhinestone-encrusted Crocs Swiftwater Sandals—a departure from the classic shape.
But Balenciaga-branded, platform Crocs just might make these spongy shoes cool, even if the sight of them elicited horrified shrieks from this writer.
Designer Demna Gavasalia’s triple-tiered Crocs came in a variety of colors, from Pepto-bismol pink to canary yellow, the tops of which were adorned with cutesy charms like flowers, animals, and flags representing different countries.
Gavasalia raved about how “innovative” Crocs are as an explanation for dipping his toe in this collaborative territory.
“It’s light, it’s a one-piece foam mould and to me these kind of techniques and working with these kind of materials is very Balenciaga,” he told British Vogue. “In the future you will be able to 3-D print them at home because they are all one piece.”
With Gavasalia at the helm, Balenciaga's cool factor continues to climb. As the Washington Post's Robin Givhan noted several days ago, Balenciaga is a brand "so engrained in our culture" that its runway shows reliably drive culture forward. This season, the models on Gavasalia's catwalk were diverse in age and ethnicity. They also tend to be unconventionally striking jolies laides, as Givhan pointed out—not unlike Crocs themselves.
The fact that Crocs are genderless makes this particularly ripe for a fashion and design explosion right now.
Indeed, Crocs’ new “Come As You Are” marketing campaign aligns with Planet Fashion’s values during our politically turbulent times. Consider Drew Barrymore another celebrity admirer; the actress talks about the importance of “coming together by celebrating our differences” in the brand’s new video ad, which was unveiled in April.
Crocs decided to shake things up after their steady, $1 billion annual revenues began declining in recent years.
“I think its tapping into a zeitgeist out there right now,” Michelle Poole, Crocs’ global head of marketing, told Fast Company this week of the new “Come As You Are” motto.
Resistance is futile: The all-conquering Crocs are finally getting their due, and will continue to assert their supremacy wherever they stomp.