Monday, January 02, 2006

Lifestyle: Weekend FT, End of a Sex and the City Trend?

Julie Earle-Levine on the functional Australian boot that Carrie Bradshaw made fashionable
Feb 20, 2004

So here's the question: will the trends that started with Sex and the City end when the show breathes it last?

Here's a case study: Uggs, the chunky calf-high sheepskin boots originally bought by surfers in Australia in the 1970s, sported by Sarah Jessica Parker in countless paparazzi shots, and bought thereafter by astonishing numbers of fashionistas on both coasts of America.

Retailers across the US sold out of the shapeless shearling boots late last year, and manufacturers have long lists of back orders. (For sales information, see www.uggaustralia.com)

Ugg wearing is now at an all-time high, with Uggs being sold for more than three times their average $150 price tag on eBay. "I've been offered all kinds of favours, drugs, money, you name it," says William Rood, who works at Harry's Shoes on Broadway. "The fact of the matter is, there are people who are desperate and for some reason, they have to have them."

The Manhattan store sold several thousand Uggs this winter, and is waiting for deliveries of orders it placed in September. "We are still owed some by Ugg, but they were out of sheepskin in December," Rood says.

It was not always thus. Brian Smith, an Australian surfer, brought Uggs to the US in 1978; his reception in New York was "not a friend- ly one" (let's be honest: they're not exactly the most stylish of footwear). California, however, loved them, and before you could say "footwear craze", celebrities had made their discovery.

Pamela Anderson, of Baywatch fame, wore Uggs. (Once she realised they were actually made of sheep - fancy that - she decided to launch her own "cruelty-free" version.) Oprah Winfrey liked them so much that she gave a pair to everyone in her talk show audience last year. Sarah Jessica Parker wears them even off-set, and also favours a stylish version by Coach, called "Andi" (Coach made 500 pairs that immediately sold out at $350 a throw, and then went up to $600 each online). Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, Kate Moss, Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson have all been seen wearing Uggs.

But can it continue? Rood for one thinks there will actually be an increase in demand next year. Lucyann Barry, founder of B. Swank, an online fashion consignment business, agrees: she sees Uggs as the winter equivalent of Birkenstock sandals. "Uggs are more than a fad, and are a great example of function over form," she says.

Indeed, there's more Ugg to come. Deckers Outdoor Corporation, the high-end distributor, has signed a five-year agreement to design and market Ugg-branded items in the US, including Ugg handbags. This may well help Deckers' share price, which some analysts predict could be hurt if and when the Ugg trend dies - if and when people realise, as Barry says, that "unless you have legs like a gazelle, really, really fabulous long legs, they are bloody ugly and look bad on 99.9 per cent of people".

It is partly for this reason that Sandra, a financial analyst living in New York, stopped wearing Uggs last year: "I wore them to the deli and my boyfriend asked: 'Oh, are you going to wear them outside?'"

Similarly, Mara Hoffman, a New York designer whose clients include Jennifer Lopez, said she was shocked by the Ugg invasion. "Generally New York has a sense of individuality in terms of street fashion, compared to LA, which is mostly celebrity-driven," says Hoffman. West Murray, a New York stylist who bought her Uggs three years ago, observes: "People who started wearing them now don't want to."

Still, judging by Ugg sightings in SoHo earlier this month on a day when it was -5°C, the Ugg trend may be around for some time. There were 33 women slopping through ankle-deep puddles in Ugg boots (not counting Ugg lookalikes) within a four-block radius. None of them seemed to notice that their Uggs were not waterproof. Surely a case of fad over function and form.

SATC Chart: the fashion trends that began on TV
The trends the show made cool
Manolos and Jimmies.
Nameplate necklaces
Horseshoe/Bunny pendants
Corsages: The bigger, the better.
Vintage stuff
The Fendi baguette: The hunt for fake Fendis was even a Sex and the City subplot.
Naked legs, no matter how cold it is outside
Cropped trousers with heels
Flat caps
Prom dresses, complete with pearls and up-dos.
Hair straighteners
Cosmopolitans