Crocs never set out to to sway the fashion world. The Colorado-based brand and its signature clogs have been doing just fine adorning the feet of women (its largest demographic) and high schoolers, a growing category. But when Christopher Kane debuted multiple pairs of earthy-hued Crocs embellished with geodes — a semi-precious alternative to the brand's trademarked Jibbitz, or shoe charms — during his Spring 2017 runway show last September, the fashion industry responded with a collective thinking face emoji.
"He has always really been a great fan of Crocs personally from a design perspective," says Sara Yoder, Crocs Director of Wholesale Merchandising, of Kane. "One thing he liked was the oversized aesthetic of the shoe — it's bulbous. He liked that contrasting with the smaller size of the woman's body."
Kane has gone on to collaborate with Crocs for not just one, but three consecutive runway seasons, adding more fuel to the ugly shoe trend, which started bubbling up back in 2013 thanks to the comeback of Birkenstocks and Tevas. Now, it's almost commonplace for showgoers to spot ugly-chic footwear on the runway, from Ugg flatforms by Preen to street-style-worthy chunky sneakers by Balenciaga, Acne, Gucci and Raf Simons.
For Spring 2018, Kane's latest Crocs pick was the men's Swiftwater sandal, which he produced for women in five different colors and encrusted with rhinestones. Shortly after its debut at London Fashion Week, Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga would go on on to showcase his own Crocs creation in Paris — a nearly-four-inch platform customized with Balenciaga-branded Jibbitz and some of Crocs's own designs. According to the Crocs team, they had a 10-week timeline to create an entirely brand new style for the French fashion house.
"Whereas Christopher Kane worked on existing silhouettes, this was obviously something that we had to work on with our technology, factories and design team in order to actually, technically, make it happen," says Yoder. "There's a lot that goes into that. It came out to be a really interesting collaboration."
Indeed, the Crocs "Foam" platform went on to cause a huge stir on social media and among online outlets. Vogue.com called it "funny, freaky and not exactly come-hither" while Highsnobiety wants us to stop pretending that Balenciaga's "meme-bait" is cool. On Instagram, Crocs posted photos of the Balenciaga design, which attracted a whopping 9,000-plus likes and more than 2,200 comments. Well before Fashion Month, the idea of Crocs nearly tore the GQ team apart. In July, the men's publication went on to question the shoe's style status after witnessing their favorite stylish celebrities sport the debatable clog. "As you can tell, these collaborations are something that are very polarizing," says Yoder. "But that's something that the Crocs brand really embodies."
With its high-end collabs and some fashion cred, Crocs is now banking on its moment of chicness. This fall, the brand released a range of affordable Christopher Kane clogs. The limited-edition styles, which go for $59.99, are covered in a tiger print motif (inspired by the designer's Pre-Fall 2017 collection) and adorned with bauble-like flowers, a feathered pom and the label's signature "K" logo. Next spring, Crocs has plans to release even more fashion-forward styles with oversize, hand-assembled embellishments in the form of florals and butterflies. "What we realized when we did some of the collaborations is that we have a consumer who's interested in stuff like that," says Yoder.
When asked if Crocs would consider possibly releasing an affordable version of Balenciaga's collaboration, Yoder says there's no plan for it right now. But we think that'd be a great idea. Think about it: A Cool Teen™ could totally show up to prom in a pair of platform Crocs.
Note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect that women's is the largest demographic for Crocs while high schoolers is a growing category for the brand.