Friday, October 14, 2011

Jane Austen's Design & Diversity

by frédérik sisa

Jane Austen has nothing whatsoever to do with today’s topic. With that disclaimer out of the way…
While I’m waiting for my ships to come back to port, I thought I’d piggyback this week’s post on an interesting discussion going on at Every Clog Has Its Day. Spurred by Lindsey and the Guy Day Friday series, Ugglebo clogs expressed an interest in receiving feedback on what men (and women) would like to see in men’s clog designs. Naturally, the opinionator almost blew a fuse. Here was my contribution to the discussion:
The challenge in answering Ugglebo’s question is that personal tastes don’t necessarily scale to the mass market, particularly when it comes to North America’s generally conservative male fashion. While I would love to see more avant-garde, deconstructed, or otherwise architectural designs – male equivalents to United Nude or Zaha Hadi’s work for Melissa Plastic Dreams – I’m not sure these would be sellable on a large enough scale to make it financially viable for Ugglebo. Similarly, while I have no personal interest in wearing high-heeled clogs yet fully respect those men who do, I don’t think high heeled men’s clogs will appeal to the mainstream. Offering larger sizes in women’s styles would apparently satisfy what is arguably a niche clientele, but I strongly suspect it will remain a niche for the foreseeable future. Fair or not, men’s fashion has to be marketed specially towards men because many men will be uncomfortable (if not hostile) towards the notion of wearing apparel or accessories styled and generally marketed for women.
Obviously, marketing has to start with the very character of the design. In my opinion, one approach is to offer designs that are fundamentally u
nisex, as some clog makers do, if not stick with variations on the traditional clog design. Another is to look at the styles of men’s shoes that actually sell and adapt those styles to create clog designs that appeal to men. Dividing up the possibilities in terms of form, colour, and ornamentation, I think there is a surprising amount of potential in today’s offerings for men. Simply offering clog sand als would be a welcome departure from the usual closed-toe clog, but any of the formal, ornamental, or colour options would be compelling both personally and, I believe, market-wide.

A a glance at the sandals selection at Zappos reveals the kind of sandals men will buy – slides, fisherman sandals, slingbacks, even designs with toe rings such as this Mt. Louis slide from Naot:

Combine any of these proven sellers with a wooden sole and a marketing campaign focused specifically on men and I think the sales would follow. Les Sabot d’Isa’s new Jeff style – a slide upper on a wood base – is a great example.

Why Naot give Les Sabots d'Isa's Jeff the toe ring treatment?

An intriguing alternative – one that I haven’t seen yet although my knowledge of clogs is far less than Lindsey’s – involves “dress clogs”, shoes with the upper of a dress shoe and a sole of wood. Looking to stylish brands like Stacy Adams for inspiration, dress clogs would be explicitly designed to fit into contemporary business and formal men’s wear. Closed back would be nice, but an open back option would make really make the design edgy while maintaining harmony with a clog look.
Could Stacy Adams' Jonathan be clogified into a open-backed wooden-soled shoe?


Although it isn’t true, from a global perspective, that men are averse to ornamentation or patterns, the trend seems to be to avoid the potentially for frilliness by keeping designs simple. Yet, despite that, I think is always an opportunity to go beyond the minimalist. Buckles and straps, for example, can easily add some visual interest. Interestingly, Harley Davidon took this sort of approach in regards to the designs of their women’s footwear. They took the straps and buckles of biker boots and used them on “women’s” shoe styles – clogs and sandals – to toughen them up. The result could just as easily be unisex or masculine, as Harley Davidson's Trixi and Adalyn demonstrate.
Harley Davidson's Adalyn Clog. A Road Clog?


As with ornamentation and patterning, bright colours aren’t at all incompatible with men’s footwear. Here in North America, however, the palette inevitably trends towards black, brown, or tan. I do think, however, that there is room for darker colours – burgundy, navy, forest, charcoal – that can be visually interesting without being overpowering. There may even be room for the occasional pop…John Fluevog’s men’s shoes offer a good example of colour in men’s shoes that go beyond the usual options.

Other folks contributed their keen insights as well, both through Lindsey's posts and in the comments. It’s a discussion of design and diversity, along with our expectations, worth checking out even if clogs in-and-of-themselves fill you with a sense of dread.

I’m very curious as to what Ugglebo’s response will be.

In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you think men’s fashion design could be improved? Your answer doesn’t have to be confined to clogs…go wild in the comments below.

Note: Usual disclaimer about the images belonging to their respective brands and used only for illustrative purposes.

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