WORDS BY NATALIE YIASSOUMI
The story behind the $76,000 Birkinstocks, made by destroyed, exotic skin Hermés Birkin bags.
How much would you be willing to pay for a good prank? Up to $76,000 is the answer for some, who bought into the newly-launched Birkinstocks – the controversial pair of sandals created from the unlikely marriage of the signature orthopaedic Birkenstock shoe soles and Hermes exotic skin leather, cut out from some of the brand’s most rare Birkin bags.
Is this the footwear collaboration of the year? Far from it: Neither Hermes nor Birkenstock ever planned on such a tie-in or had a say in the final product.
This was the brainchild of MSCHF: A Brookly-based “collective” that specializes at poking fun at the culture of consumerism and setting up such viral pranks. It’s the same company that created the “Jesus shoes” – Nike sneakers whose soles were cut up, filled with what they deemed to be holy water and spotted on Drake post-launch. They also created “88 Holes,” whereby they cut up the 88 spots on a Damien Hirst painting and sold them individually.
This is the first time that luxury fashion became their target. Perhaps it was the increasing currency of Birkin bags – which have become a better investment than gold during the pandemic – or the world’s obsession with casual dressing and “ugly” shoes in particular, be it Crocs, Ugg boots or Birkenstocks, that gave this mystery team ground to apply their sarcasm onto one of luxury’s longest standing icons.
Despite no direct access to Hermes and Birkenstock, the MSCHF crew managed to make their own version of ‘Birkinstocks’ by buying $122,500 worth of Birkin bags on resale sites and after a few failed attempts, finding a leather workshop that agreed to cut up the world-famous bags and turn them into what they claim to be “the most exclusive sandals ever made.”
It’s highly questionable whether their claims are sound: There was a public outrage when the product drop was announced, calling its ironic approach “tone deaf” given the simultaneous health, financial and environmental crises the world is facing at the moment.
There’s also a potential trademark infringement case here: Hermes maintains the rights in the style-name of its bag, while Birkenstock has trademark rights in the name and design of its signature sandal.
MSCHF has certainly used the Birkin name more than once to market the sandals, but according to legal expert Julie Zerbo of The Fashion Law they could also shield under a “fair use claim” and get away with using a “markedly similar version of the Birkenstock name” and shoe style. MSCHF founders said that either way they would welcome a lawsuit, as it would bolster the cultural value of their work.
For the time being they just get to sit back, watch their prank go viral – and cash in. Three pairs – priced between $34,000 to $76,000 and made to order – have already sold and there’s another four to six left. In fact, the company has a roster of VIP clients – including private art collectors and probably Drake too – who get early access to their most exclusive drops.
We’re just sort of fascinated with destroying expensive things and creating something new out of them,” Daniel Greenberg, MSCHF’s 23-year-old head of strategy, told the New York Times. “Birkin bags are a kind of cultural meme, a symbol of a certain kind of wealth,” he added.
Image courtesy of MSCHF
By mashing up one of the most revered luxury bag styles in the world with one of the most accessible shoes, the intention was to make consumers question the whole concept of status symbols and what it is we’re willing to pay for.
Genius or just one big scam?
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