Shoes may not be able to talk, but they have a way of saying a lot about a person. An Everlane flat practically screams sensibility and style, for example, while Manolo Blahnik Hangisi heels suggest an affinity for glamour (and, probably, Sex and the City). Louis XIV’s famed collection practically sums up his entire reign in a nutshell: opulent, excessive, divine. And then there’s the quirky Fluevog, a small shoe brand with enormous character whose statement-making designs are famously loud. So loud, in fact, they speak directly to the soul — and the fashion world is listening closely.
In the 1970s, on the heels of a summer spent hitchhiking down the West Coast in the throes of social revolution, John Fluevog returned home to Vancouver to work in the shoe business. By 1980, he had his own namesake label born from the vestiges of 1960s counterculture, created to celebrate individuality. With each Victorian-inspired buckle, architectural heel, and floral jacquard fabric integrated into his designs, Fluevog was using shoes to send a message to his customers: “The way you have been made is ok, and you can walk in the boldness of knowing your uniqueness is not an accident,” he says, explaining to Refinery29 that this belief is what fuels his craft.
It’s a brand ethos that has survived decades of fashion cycles and the fleeting trends they produce completely unscuffed. While shopping habits and tastes shifted with each new era of style (oversized everything in the ’80s, punk in the ’90s, and so on), the loyal Fluevog customer has always been the person that wants to stand out in a crowd. “They were the ones that bucked the trends. They were the ones that went against the flow. They were the cool [people] that were into drugs and sex and anything, but really they were people that were trying to carve out a different life for themselves,” Fluevog says.
In a digital age where our wardrobes have morphed into uniform derivatives of what we’re constantly being force-fed online, a collective craving for this Fluevog-ian kind of originality is starting to emerge. Sartorial ennui has left shoppers hungry for the cool, cult-y brands that don’t adhere to industry rules and standards, which has always been the Fluevog way. According to Larry Milstein, co-founder of PRZM, one of the leading Gen Z consultancies, there is no appetite for individualism greater than that of centennials who hail from a generation currently on track to make up the majority of buying power by the end of this year.
“Authenticity is critical for Gen Z… We are the first generation to have grown up around this concept of ‘personal brand’ and seen the explosive growth of social platforms built precisely for self-expression — and individuality has increasingly come to displace conformity,” Milstein explains. “The same applies to how we engage with brands. Companies that take a stand, embrace individuality, and are unafraid of what makes them different are resonating in particular with our next-gen cohort.”
If authenticity is what makes the Fluevog brand matter, a consistently funky flair is what makes it desirable. It’s a niche aesthetic, to be sure — think ’90s grunge meets baroque psychedelia — but it’s also surprisingly versatile. You’re as likely to find Lizzo rocking a pair of bubble-gum pink ‘vogs for an Absolut Vodka campaign as you are to spot the label at Paris Fashion Week (see Comme des Garcons F/W 2019 for reference). Each design is like a story that invites its wearer to play the lead. There are vintage-inspired lace-up booties for the days you feel like a rockstar and buckled loafer heels for when you feel like a queen. And if you’re in a Helena Bonham Carter mood and want to be a little bit of both, look no further than the rubber-heeled Mary Janes.
Devout followers of the brand call themselves Fluevogers — an eclectic community that counts Madonna, Alice Cooper, and Beyoncé among its higher-profile members. Having celebrities wear his shoes is what Fluevog likens to the occasional sprinkling of fairy dust, but he also thinks there’s a simple reason his vision resonates with musicians in particular. “They entertain, I entertain. It makes sense that they were born to make [people] happy and so was I.”
The Fluevoger crew is so tight-knit, they even dip into one another’s closets from time to time. The company’s Fluemarket is a highly trafficked online marketplace where previously loved products from the brand can be uploaded and resold. Fluevog doesn’t make money from these transactions, which are instead part of its larger efforts to be more environmentally friendly. According to the “About the materials and production” section of the company website, Fluevog produces its shoes in factories across the globe that comply with western labor standards. They also use recycled soles, less leather (Fluevog began working with vegan leather back in the 1990s), and no heavy metals in the tanning process. The goal? Longer-lasting shoes that are kinder to our planet. “I believe every person and company has a moral obligation to try and have less impact on our environment. It’s not just a nice thing to do, we have to do it,” the designer says.
If there’s one trend wave Fluevog has been riding long before it was cool, it’s the sustainability one — another part of its brand DNA that’ll attract a new breed of fans. As consumers become increasingly aware of their role within a larger ecosystem that needs both improving and protecting, they’ll rely on brands like Fluevog to help them make better choices. “The main trend for the near future is that of being credible, authentic, and being capable of explaining what it is that you’re doing and being truthful. I think people really are looking for something real,” says Orsola de Castro, co-founder of the global not-for-profit Fashion Revolution which campaigns for systemic reform in the industry. “At the end of the day, it’s about buying something you know you’re going to keep.”
Like most brands trying to adopt greener practices, Fluevog isn’t perfect, which is something its founder recognises. “The very idea of us shipping product around the world puts us in negative territory. Saying we are environmentally ok would be wrong,” he says. But this awareness and transparency represents a step in the right direction towards truly conscious transactions, and its one that’ll land Fluevog right on the hearts and heels of 2020’s coolest consumers.
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