It was inevitable that the Ugg boot would make a comeback, even though many people still find them unsightly, given the current trend toward Y2K-inspired fashion, which is bringing back mainstays from the 1990s and early 2000s.
The traditional beige sheepskin shoes have recently been seen in an updated form on Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber, and TikTok celebrities Lauren Wolfe and Victoria Paris. Cher is the newest Hollywood star to endorse Ugg, having been unveiled as the company’s new face for the upcoming Spring 2022 campaign.
Emma Chamberlain, a 20-year-old YouTube sensation and Louis Vuitton ambassador who just attended the Met Gala, stated in a 2021 Halloween vlog named “Ugg season” that she was “wearing leggings and Uggs boots.” “Like, I’m turning into something I never thought I’d turn into,” she laughed. “What is happening to my identity right now?”
Uggs have been a part of the celebrity culture for quite some time, whether you like them or not. No event was too fancy or too minimal for the shoes to be seen in the early 2000s. They seemed to be everywhere, in every era, wearing every clothing style. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Beyoncé, and Kate Moss have all been photographed wearing high-heeled, beige shearling shoes while out and about in the world.
Uggs were so ubiquitous in the 2000s that just seeing a pair now evokes strong feelings about that era. They seem to be woven with references to Paris Hilton, low-rise denim, and asymmetrical fedoras. A long time before TMZ paparazzi photographs and miles away from Los Angeles’ star-studded boulevards, the Ugg boot’s origin begins on a beachfront in San Diego.
Where the Ugg shoe came from
As a surfer and entrepreneur from Australia, Brian Smith moved to Southern California in 1978, where he created the first Ugg boot. It was tan, supple, and round-toed, just like the version worn by A-listers in Hollywood. Traditional shoe retailers dismissed Smith’s creation, but the surfing community in Southern California quickly embraced Uggs for their practicality (you could wear the shearling-lined shoes without socks after drying the feet quickly).
Uggs gained credibility in the surf subculture, which allowed Smith to break into the sporting market. Skiers and snowboarders loved the boot for its cozy shearling lining, but high school hockey squads in the Midwest and East were the boot’s biggest fans in the ’80s. The brand’s popularity among students skyrocketed. Smith, speaking from his residence in San Diego, recalled the overwhelming peer pressure in a phone conversation. In high school, “you just weren’t cool” if you didn’t own a pair of Uggs.
Smith sought additional publicity for his idea in the early 1990s. On the plane, he saw a fellow traveler immersed in an issue of People magazine and decided to try his luck in Hollywood. Smith emailed 400 stylists, offering complimentary Uggs to any interested celebs. According to Smith, Brooke Shields, Neil Young, Tom Cruise, and Kate Hudson quickly accepted his offer.
However, things didn’t start getting interesting until the year 2000, which was five years after Smith sold the company to the multi-brand footwear behemoth Deckers Outdoor Corporation. Deckers engaged New York advertising firm The Bromley Group to carry on Smith’s celebrity endorsement strategy by sending Uggs to film sets, hoping actors would wear them during downtime.
Bromley Group account supervisor Julie Nuernberg claimed in 2003 that the company intended to market the shoe as “something you would wear with a tiny (skirt) out shopping,” which is a far cry from its original formless, practical, and downright unsexy conception. (Soon after, Y2K stars Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan would immortalize the brand visually with a miniskirt and a pair of Uggs.)
The success of Uggs, like any product of the celebrity-obsessed 2010s, depended on the company’s ability to build a celebrity following, which it achieved almost immediately. In 2000, after Oprah Winfrey featured Uggs on her Favorite Things list, she gave 350 pairs to her team, introducing the brand to her already massive audience.
“Nike had jogging take off, Reebok had aerobics take off, Zoom had the pandemic take off, and for (Uggs) it was Oprah,” confirmed Smith. “Oprah was what took (Uggs) worldwide. And that’s how it got into the billions.”
More than two decades later, Oprah is still promoting the brand, with a sequined version from 2010 and a new colorway line from 2003 that also appeared on Favorite Things. Uggs are so popular that they made it into Winfrey’s most recent list. Uggs successfully combined the off-duty model aesthetic with the Southern California image made famous by television shows such as “The O.C.” and “Laguna Beach.” This allowed the brand to appeal to a broad audience.
Product sales climbed by 300 percent between 2002 and 2003. When demand for the boots exceeded supply, customers faced lengthy wait times of up to a month to buy a pair. According to New York Magazine, the shoes were auctioned on eBay in 2003 for a markup of almost 200%. One shopkeeper on the street told NYMag that customers were “fighting and sobbing to acquire a pair.”
Uggs were originally an aspirational accessory, but after production matched to demand and a flood of counterfeits hit the stores, they became ordinary clothing for everyone. The caramel-colored boots were so widely available that even celebrity endorsement couldn’t save them from becoming a cliche.
According to a 2009 article in the Independent, a British newspaper, Uggs are “the Australian footwear that makes you look like you’ve got child-bearing ankles.” And even “the glossy charms of Sienna Miller and Cameron Diaz can’t carry them off with any conviction,” it said. Suddenly, the shoes were no longer suitable for public use.
Uggs are indeed really soft and cozy, but they’ve gone from being a sign of effortless style to a badge of embarrassing laziness. Ten years later, however, preferences have shifted again, with a 90% spike in monthly searches for “Uggs” on Google. “I was in Paris not too long ago, and I couldn’t believe how many Ugg boots I saw,” Smith stated.
The epidemic may be responsible for our unconventional tastes, much as the resurgence of Crocs (the foamy gardening shoe that just launched sold-out partnerships with artists Post Malone and Justin Bieber). Comfort was the game’s name in 2020 and 2021, as stated by Lucila Saldana, footwear and accessories strategist at WGSN.
During the epidemic, “two-mile-wear shoes,” or footwear that is both cozy for lounging at home and practical for errands, “exploded as a commercial and design factor,” she wrote in an email. The conditions were ideal for an Ugg comeback: a warm shoe that also evokes the euphoric early 2000s, a time that has significantly impacted fashion in 2018.
Extremely unattractive fashion trend
The company works with a swarm of hip high-fashion designers to reinterpret the Uggs brand identity and attract a younger, edgier clientele. During New York Fashion Week in February 2019, bicoastal cult label Eckhaus Latta introduced square-toed Ugg mules to the world. The following year, Uggs targeted renowned British fashion designer Molly Goddard and produced a three-piece footwear line consisting of tall lime green platform slip-ons, fuzzy wool slippers, and flowery appliqué boots.
According to the fashion website Lyst, demand for the Uggs x Telfar line that debuted in October increased by 94% in just 48 hours. At the beginning of the month, Chinese fashion designer Feng Chen debuted a buckled-strap rendition of the Ugg boot. Limited edition items and high-fashion collaborations keep the 43-year-old brand fresh while creating an air of luxury — the antidote to Uggs’ demise over ten years ago.
It seems to be working, as Ugg-related Pinterest searches in the United States are up 60% this month compared to January 2021, while “Ugg outfits” is up 300% in the United Kingdom. Pinterest’s head of fashion, Jessica Payne, predicted in an email that “Noughties brand ‘Ugg’ is set to make a resurgence in 2022,” noting the superstar power of Kaia Gerber. She is regularly seen wearing extremely small Uggs with her pilates clothes.
The New York Times stated that income has increased to an astounding $1.5 billion since Smith decided to sell the company in 1995 for $15 million ($27.7 million in today’s money).
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