Browse all

When useful beats beautiful: history of Crocs

How a couple of boat clogs arrived on the Paris catwalks (and also at the White House)

When useful beats beautiful: history of Crocs How a couple of boat clogs arrived on the Paris catwalks (and also at the White House)
Rihanna
Brooke Shields
Mario Batali
Crocs x Beams
Crocs x Grateful Dead x Chinatown Market
Crocs x Justin Bieber with Drew
Crocs x KFC
Crocs x Nicole McLaughlin
Steven Tyler
Whoopi Goldberg
Crocs x Pizza Slime Body Bag
Crocs x Pleasures
Crocs x Post Malone
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
George W. Bush
Al Pacino
Helen Mirren
Jack Nicholson
Michelle Obama
Mario Batali & Michelle Obama
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Balenciaga SS18

If there was a single definitive feature that could synthesize the essence of Crocs, this would be naivety – the same kind of naivety that decreed the success of naïve art. The simplicity and roundness of their silhouette has something childish – and this is precisely the trait that has led them, in the last five years, to limestone the catwalks of Christopher Kane and Balenciaga, as well as to be the protagonists of countless collaborations of which the last is that with Nicole McLaughlin. But Crocs's history dates back to the early 2000s, indeed to 2002, when the first two hundred pairs of modelled and patented resin clogs were presented at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show and sold out. 

Today, nineteen years and three hundred million shoes sold later, the Crocs became a cultural phenomenon but in July 2002, when the three founders of the brand, Lyndon Hanson, Scott Seamans, and George Boedecker, presented them in Fort Lauderdale with the gigantic impact that the chlogs would have had had not yet been perceived in all its colossal grandeur. The material with which they are composed was called Croslite, equipped with a particular shockproof quality that made it ideal for absorbing shocks and vibrations and properly distributing the weight of the foot. The waterproofness of Croslite also prevented the absorption of sweat or stagnation of water, thus making it impossible to give birth to bacteria, odors and even wear usually brought by moisture.

George W. Bush
Al Pacino
Jack Nicholson
Michelle Obama
Helen Mirren

Their initial destination was boat decks: lightness, strength and waterproofness as well as ease of washing was designed for the world of sailing. But after debuting in Fort Lauderdale, they realized their real potential when entire legions of kitchen workers and nurses had already begun to use them - at which point even the highest swaths of the clientele began to experience them. Their breakout year was 2006, when The Washington Post's Jennifer Huget wrote, «They've spread like a vermin.» Crocs' story is the story of a viral success: born as waterproof, airy and anti-smelling boat shoes spread almost through word-of-speech in a dimension that could not be further from that of fashion. Huget wrote in August 2006: 

«Restaurant workers were early adopters, as were doctors and nurses, for whom closed-top Crocs, without the upper vent holes, were developed; Crocs issued colors such as sage and light blue to match surgical scrubs. Celebrity chef Mario Batali is among the shoes' most prominent (and unpaid) proponents. Crocs Inc. expects sales of around $200 million in 2006.»

Whoopi Goldberg
Brooke Shields
Steven Tyler

Their social ascent, which began in New York kitchens, took the Crocs all the way to the White House: then-President Bush wore them in combos with a pair of socks in 2007, eliciting a lot of ironies. In 2009, first lady Michelle Obama wore a pair with her daughter. When they debuted at Bush's feet the fact was shocking to the audience, yet it testifies to the social ubiquity of the Crocs - their nature was so exquisitely utilitarian that wearing them was not a social signifier of any kind, it was simply comfortable, and that's why the President of the United States wore them in his spare time. The Crocs silhouette managed to find a loophole in the complicated socio-anthropological rules that regulate the fashion world: through that breach, the fame of foam clog spread everywhere.

Meanwhile, the shoes drew on the satires of half the world: Bill Maher mocked them in public, Maxim and Time magazines included them in the charts of the ugliest objects, and Newsweek's Steve Tuttle wrote an entire anti-Crocs essay that polarized the opinion of his readers. Of course, bad publicity not only helped to make them talk, but also made them an object of worship, a cultural topic - as well as the ideal embodiment of that somewhat baroque fetishism that our society feels for the eccentric and the disharmony. Before it was a shoe, the Crocs became a statement.

In all this, the brand continued to grow, every slapsty served only to make it root its name in pop culture and precisely in this stood their strength: from their beginning the Crocs were located in an area of the market that the change of trends did not touch. As the fashions of luxury came and went, the Crocs continued to be bought because they served people – not the glitterati that populated the front rows of Milan and Paris, but the countless humble workers around the world. They kept the brand afloat during and after the 2008 crisis, when revenue slumped 30%, lost $185.1 million and had to cut two thousand jobs.

But the crisis passed, the company survived and returned to sell. Fast-forward eight years later: We are at London Fashion Week SS17, the fashion show of Christopher Kane's latest collection is taking place when each model took to the catwalk wearing a pair of marbled-looking Crocs adorned with precious gems.

Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17
Christoper Kane SS17

It was shock. Kane himself, when asked why did he pick them for a collaboration, said:

«Crocs are arguably the most comfortable shoe, I love that they are slightly awkward and might be perceived by some as ‘ugly’. They have a very naïve and childlike shape which I especially like when they look extra clunky on the foot».

It was still a season away from the ugly/chunky shoe trend that Demna Gvasalia would launch with Balenciaga's FW17 collection only a few months later – a temporal coincidence that shows how ripe the time was ripe for the acceptance of Crocs in the fashion world. It was Gvasalia who took the cue and, already a year later, balenciaga's SS18 collection was the first collaboration between Gvasalia and Crocs. 

It was Gvasalia and the troll fashion launched with Vetements to make the Crocs a fashion thing – Balenciaga's recorded the sold-out even before arriving in stores. Then came the trend of ugly shoes, of streetwear trend that led endless celebrities to be paparaized in overalls and slippers: to be cool you had to give a and nothing flaunted menefreghismo like the Crocs. Christopher Kane's prophecy was coming true. At that point the brand was already a certain age and the charm of nostalgia of the early 2000s was felt. The extraordinary surge that the brand had at this stage was due to the spread of the irony of fashion of which the so-called "aesthetics of the ugly" was the most immediate reflection. 

Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18
Balenciaga SS18

Then began a very fruitful season of collaborations for the brand. In June 2018 the Alife brand collaborated with Crocs, in December of the same year the models signed by Post Malone came out and in January it fell to PLEASURES. At the end of the same month it was the turn of Chinatown Market, in February PizzaSlime transformed the clog into a cross-body bag, in April it fell to Beams and Hender Scheme and between July and August Chinatown Market and PLEASURES presented the second chapters of their respective collaborations while, in December, it was Post Malone who renewed it. 

Crocs x Justin Bieber with Drew
Crocs x Post Malone
Crocs x Pleasures
Crocs x Pizza Slime Body Bag
Crocs x Nicole McLaughlin
Crocs x Beams
Crocs x Grateful Dead x Chinatown Market
Crocs x KFC

2020, with all its disasters, failed to stop Crocs' advance: KFC unveiled its Crocs in February this year; PEEPS in March; Beams in April with the third collaboration; in May Chaos Fishing Club created a phosphorescent pair, in August Grateful Dead and Chinatown Market launched a tye-dye pair and Journal Standard a leather pair; in September came the third collaboration with PLEASURES and the first with Bad Bunny, another with Nicole McLaughlin and finally the one with Justin Bieber. An amazing series of collaborations that, however, confirms the status of cultural icon that the brand enjoys today – as well as its extraordinary versatility. Like Michelle Poole, Vice President of Global Product & Marketing at Crocs, told Highsnobiety:

«Our clog serves as a blank canvas that can fuel the latest trends or conversations. This is why we think we’re becoming more relevant in the streetwear space».

Rihanna
Mario Batali
Mario Batali & Michelle Obama