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Ode to Ugg: In or out, boots have staying power

By Samantha Critchell
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 7:04 p.m.
 

Take that, trend-watchers: Ugg Australia's now-classic boots in their comfy, cozy glory are still going strong after 35 years, having just celebrated their anniversary this month at all the company-owned stores.

The sort-of-clunky sheepskin boots have been declared “in” and they've been called “out” — many times over. They've been knocked off even more. But their loyal fans keep buying them.

“Have you ever tried one on? If you did, you'd know,” says Tacey Powers, national merchandise manager for Nordstrom. “They are part of the everyday wardrobe. You own a sneaker, you own a flip-flop, you own an Ugg.”

The original boot style is still the most popular, but Ugg has branched out to include more fashion-y silhouettes and loungewear. Home products such as blankets and decorative pillows will be offered this holiday season. Almost every item is touched, even if it's hidden at the base of the heel, by the signature sheepskin lining.

“You have to be comfortable in Ugg. You have to feel good. Our tag line is, ‘Feels like nothing else.' We want them to be the go-to pair in your closet for everything,” Ugg Australia President Connie Rishwain says. “We don't want to be the pretty pair you never wear.”

The peak of Ugg's pop-culture trendiness was in the early 2000s, when Hollywood starlets made them part of their uniform with short denim miniskirts. Never mind that they were cruising the sunny beaches of Malibu, Calif.

Now, it's evolved into a “Goldie-Hawn-in-Aspen look,” says Adam Glassman, creative director at O, The Oprah Magazine, and that's how you should wear them: with leggings and a long sweater, or jeans and a fur-trimmed parka. Or, like you just don't care.

“Ignore the rest of your outfit. It's nearly impossible to build an outfit around them,” he says.

However, don't wear them with socks. Not because they'll look bad, but you'll be missing out on the sheepskin sensation that makes them special.

Backstory

Ugg Australia founder Brian Smith brought these boots from Down Under to southern California in the 1970s. They were particularly popular with male surfers.

But Deckers Outdoor Corp. bought Ugg in 1995 and saw its potential with young women. “We inherited its inventory and its customers,” says Rishwain, “but what blew my mind was the sell-through. We were pretty much a fourth-quarter brand, but it pretty much sold out year-round.”

Ugg wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder, however, says Rishwain, who has been with the brand since the Deckers deal. With success came a confidence to create clogs, slippers and the cardigan-knit boots that are almost as popular as the original. Ugg needed that depth of merchandise before opening its first stand-alone store in 2006. Now, there are riding, high-heel and combat boots.

Loyalty

Nordstrom's Powers says part of Ugg's staying power comes from consumers who replace worn-out products with new ones. Since the line isn't dictated by “trends,” shoppers come back for the same thing over and over again. She compares it to a favorite running shoe.

Also, notes Powers, people always refer to the brand name — it's never the fuzzy moonboot or shearling slipper. The products are pricey, she allows, but she has no complaint about quality or cut corners. (Nordstrom.com lists a pair of women's classic short boots at $154.95.)

“One of the things I love about them is that they are such a genuine company and the customer comes first to them. That breeds longevity,” she says.

Fashion

Put Ugg boots in the category of Wellington rain boots or the all-purpose cardigan “cozy” that DKNY has offered year after year, Oprah's Glassman says. “It's totally consumer-driven. Every high-end designer has done a version of Uggs in his or her own line.”

He counted three pairs in his office the other day — and it's only October. “I am probably the only person in fashion who'll tell you how much they love their Uggs,” he says.

Not true, actually. In previous interviews over the past year, Rachel Zoe and Michael Kors have sung their praises. And it's always a similar tune: They are for the moments when comfort counts and conditions allow.

They're not really for the times when you're making a major fashion statement, but how many of those do you really have?

Glassman recalls a glitzy black-tie event during a snowstorm. “Everyone was so glammed-up, but I was tired of ruining my fancy — and expensive — shoes, ruining my pants. I brought a little shopping bag with my tuxedo shoes, I switched them inside and checked in my Uggs at the coat check. It was a little awkward — a little Melanie Griffith in ‘Working Girl' — but when we left, it was still snowing. I changed again, walked outside, and everyone said, ‘Wow, you were the smartest guy here.'”

Samantha Critchell is the AP fashion writer.

 

 
 


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