Walk in their shoes: the making of a worldwide icon
It’s hard to quantify, but often it appears that in the blink of an eye, everybody is seen sporting a particular style or product. It’s easy to assume these trends pop up overnight. Nevertheless, some of them have been a lifetime in the making.
This year, the Nike Cortez reached an unprecedented level of worldwide fervor through a brilliant campaign that has us marketers on the sidelines salivating. To understand the shoe’s rise to this pinnacle in 2017, we have to go way back to 1972 when the shoe was officially released. At that time, it wasn’t a cultural staple, it merely represented Nike’s drive for a better running shoe.
Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s intent to produce a functional shoe inadvertently created a pop-culture icon. The style took off and became king of US west coast hip-hop culture for decades. It even graced movie screens in a Best Picture winner, Forrest Gump. The company’s “just do it” attitude fit in perfectly with the film’s messaging and voila! Just like that, an iconic screen moment was born.
Fast-forward to 2013 when Nike released an Asian City Pack for the Nike Cortez. The shoes were produced in bold colors and each style represented five key cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taipei. Two years later, in 2015 Nike announced it would release the shoe in classic color ways. The announcement grabbed sneakerheads by storm and raised the price of the shoe in resale markets.
The style reached a fever pitch when the company opted to have international personality Bella Hadid star in its 1970s-inspired campaign. The model and socialite breathed new life into the style as she coquettishly strutted in a pair of Cortez at the French Open.
Her more than 13 million followers took note and rushed to their own Instagram accounts to show off their #Nikecortez. The hashtag is populated with fashion bloggers and mere mortals alike. Both groups can be found proudly pairing the shoes with their newest Gucci or rocking the style next to the Eiffel tower. A pop-up Cortez Market was erected on the trendy cross-streets of Melrose and La Cienega in Los Angeles.
A more contemporary example of a brand that has perfected the iconic-shoe playbook is Gucci, with its Princetown loafer. Spotted everywhere from fashion spreads to supermodels and celebrities to fashion bloggers, the design took the world by storm as soon as it was debuted by Alessandro Michele.
Nobody was safe – the Princetown-mule itch manifested itself on the feet of old and new celebrities alike: Gigi Hadid, Jennifer Aniston, Kendall Jenner, Gwen Stefani and Dakota Fanning were all spotted with a pair.
The shoe made appearances on numerous airport trips and in paparazzi-style streetwear shots. Dubbed “Every Celebrity’s Favorite Airport Shoe,” instead of relying on heritage, this design capitalized on the desire for fashionistas and public figures to feel opulent while still giving off a perfectly disheveled attitude.
In the second half of this year, the brand succumbed to millennials’ moral compasses and announced that it would go fur-free, iconic Princetown loafers included. Hordes of Internet shoe aficionados joined in on the conversation and started declaring the original kangaroo-fur-lined versions collector’s items.
The slides first appeared on Gucci’s 2015 runway and were likened to non-esthetically pleasing designs like those of UGG, Birkenstock, and the Crocs brand. Nevertheless, the Italian design and price point for these slides made their odd (and often ugly) look a very in-demand style.
Since 2015 the fashion house has kept the purchase intent for this iconic shoe high by engaging in limited edition collaborations with the likes of Printemps and by offering a plethora of design options. Velvet? Zebra print? A lion embroidery? You got it! The brand kept consumers on their toes with creative overhauls of the same product, season after season. This strategy has worked and the style continues to occupy a large footprint (pardon the pun) on the sales floor.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and by those standards, the Princetown mule is praised as a god. Everyone from fast-fashion retail chain Zara to footwear giant Steve Madden hopped on the trend and devised their own knock-0ffs of the style.
What appears to the untrained eye as a quick rise in popularity is actually the by-product of years of brilliant campaigns and alignments with personalities who move the needle for consumers. Designers looking to expand their reach in Asia and beyond can borrow key lessons from brands that have been successful with such plays.
These lessons from Nike and Gucci can be replicated from varying sides of the fashion and luxury spectra. Reinvention and a keen understanding of pop culture are what made the men and women in your own Instagram feed opt for that iconic shoe.