If any brand made an impact in Paris this past weekend it has to be Birkenstock, the venerable German shoemaker, which held a garden party and elaborate presentation that attracted the great and the good of men’s fashion.
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“Basically, I am here to buy the drinks!” quipped Olivier Reichert, CEO of Birkenstock, inside a custom-built wood and wrought iron pavilion inside the Tuileries, where models paraded the group’s latest footwear.
“There are only two relevant places in the world to be present as a brand – New York and Paris. We cannot do anything in comparison to Chanel or Dior, no! Nor do people expect us to. So, our role is to create something like this; have a drink and let people see our huge variety,” he explained.
Beside the models, one 40-meter-long table practically groaned with shoes; from their classic two-strap Arizona in silver, chrome and bashed gold metallics; or their fabled Boston clog revamped in glittery pewter; or coolest of all, their forward strap Gizeh Eva in scuba blues, reds and yellows.
Birkenstock has collaborated with such boldface names as Heidi Klum, though Reichert stressed that the Paris event did not presage a series of linkups with fashion icons.
“We are in the fashion as a backstage brand, where everyone wears Birkenstock –photographers, hair and makeup, art directors,” insisted the powerfully built Munich-born Reichert, who unusually for a German prefers rugby to football.
Reichert is the first non-family member to manage Birkenstock, which was founded Johan Adam Birkenstock back in 1774. His heirs developed the first contoured insoles, and their cork footbed sandals became hugely popular after WW2 among returning soldiers due to their orthopedic support. Though the brand only really took off in the late 60s when Hippies and the Flower Power generation adopted the sandals as counter-culture symbols.
Birkenstock now sells just under 30 million pairs annually. Reichert said annual revenues are in excess of half a billion euros, and “we remain highly profitable.” A decade ago annual sales were at just €120 million.
Based in Neustadt, across the Rhine from Bonn, Birkenstock manufactures practically everything in Germany, boasting over 3,800 employees.
“We are sold out for four years. Sold out!” exclaimed the enthusiastic and massive German, who wore worn gray jeans, a fitted black shirt and a classic pair of Arizonas, albeit with sold gold buckles by goldsmith legend Patrick Muff.
“We are not here to promote ourselves but to celebrate with a party and show our collections. We have 1,800 styles – so even if your girlfriend or wife doesn’t like Birkenstock I am sure she will find something to like. We are always looking forward new ideas. Someone suggested we work with Brazilian fish skin and now we do that too. We are in the right stores. Our latest supply into Colette sold out in three hours. We are in the pinnacle area of boutiques,” enthused Reichert, a former sports TV executive who was head hunted back in 2009.
His first job was to resolve a series of feuds between family members, until 2013 when he had created a new corporate structure.
“First I had to suffer in the family, because it was a big war zone. The first five years were spent working in the family to clear this situation between the brothers, and the father. Then, finally, the blood began to flow to the brain and we could make decisions. And, today, we are here celebrating in Paris!” he said, with one of his barrel-chested laughs.