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Water yeezy shoes are now streetwear

Fortunately for the adventurous, we have the water shoe. Produced by outdoor brands like Merrell and Hoka, and now stocked in fashion shops such as Arket, Browns and Ssense, the water shoe is a rubbery cage designed for amphibious hikes, offering traction on slippery surfaces and protection from spiky debris.

The shoe’s porous design would seem to make it ill-suited for city life, and yet it has become a street-style fixture. Consumers have gravitated to offerings from the outdoor labels that pioneered the style, and fashion houses have introduced their own riffs on the format. The trend is part of the pull towards earthy utility that has driven fashion’s fixation on outdoor gear over the past few years, a fascination with future-focused production techniques — and pure comfort.

The Croc had a big part to play in the water shoe’s rise into everyday casual wear. Once favoured by nurses and cooks as workwear, the Croc went mainstream in the late 2000s. Though the foamy footwear dipped in popularity at the beginning of the past decade, it has come roaring back into relevance, thanks largely to fashion collaborations. Christopher Kane did it first with his own Crocs in 2016, but it was really Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga that returned them to the forefront of pop culture as part of the brand’s autumn/winter 2018 collection. Other limited-edition Crocs, such as the Pollex model from designer Salehe Bembury, sell out almost instantly when released.

In late 2019, Kanye West revealed the Yeezy Foam Runner, one of the stranger results of his ongoing partnership with Adidas. It has the fundamental characteristics of a Croc — made from a foamy monomaterial punched with large holes — but it is styled with sci-fi panache. Its openings are irregular but symmetrical, like those in the leaf of a large monstera plant: the Foam Runner looks like it might have crawled out of an HR Giger sketchbook. Despite some initial bafflement from the public, the style caught on. (In this regard, Kanye West has an exceptional track record.)

“What we saw with Kanye was a kind of cultural and consumer unlock,” says Bailey. “Now you’re seeing brands like Bottega, Balenciaga, produce shoes in the exact same way, but with the cost associated with a high-fashion brand.”

Under designer Daniel Lee, Bottega Veneta produced the Puddle series of loafers and boots, which helped define the look of Lee’s tenure. Prada also now offers a mule in the same matt, rubbery monochrome. And Balenciaga’s footwear line-up includes, beyond its Crocs collaborations, several injection-moulded designs, notably the Space Shoe and the Mold Closed slip-on.

“I’ve been to the factories where these shoes are made and I’ve seen the actual shoe coming out of the machine,” says Bailey. “Brands do a good job of validating their prices from a consumer standpoint. The kind of textural finishes they put on these products looks beautiful. It feels expensive but at the end of the day it is a process that is meant to be cheap.” One design that moves beyond the clog format: Camper’s unisex Kobarah sandal, made from a single piece of curvaceous EVA.

In 2004, English designer Marc Newson designed a shoe for Nike called the Zvezdochka, consisting of a perforated rubber exterior and a removable internal sock liner. It was marketed as one of the first shoes to be designed entirely on a computer. Inspired by Newson’s early fascination with the space age and named after the Russian dog launched into orbit aboard Sputnik 10 in 1961, the Zvezdochka was ahead of its time and looks completely current in 2022.

Bailey thinks fashion brands are still scratching the surface of the creative potential of this style of production. “There are peaks and troughs in footwear innovation in general, where it’s like you can see where everyone gets really excited about a particular thing and the most ridiculous things get made. It’s years after something becomes popular that you start to really see how it could be integrated in a palatable, interesting way.”

We’re likely to see more conceptual innovation now that the process and materials are part of the luxury playbook. The amphibious clog is no damp squib.

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