Yesterday, we told you about the show related to Kenzo’s first collection signed by the new artistic director of the fashion house, Nigo. Precisely, we focused on the Chanel glasses worn by Pharrell Williams – here you can read the full article.
Today we start from the show in question that, in addition to being a great new start for Kenzo, has brought to Galleries Vivienne in Paris, a series of the most influential people in the world.
Kanye West and his new flame Julia Fox, Tyler The Creator and of course Pharrell Williams were all sitting in the front row next to Nigo.
What caught my attention though were the shoes worn by Nigo, Pharrell, Tyler and Kanye – but also by so many others present at the show – you know why? Because they were all from the same brand, Red Wing Shoes.
Starting from this detail, which inevitably projects Red Wing in the elite of contemporary fashion, we decided to retrace the long history of the brand founded in 1905 by Charles H. Beckman.
We must start from very far away and move to Minnesota, precisely to the city of Red Wing. Between the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s the American town was enjoying excellent health, from an industrial point of view it was the most important producer of grain in the country and the obsolete warehouses and factories were slowly being replaced by workshops and factories in an expansion that involved the whole town also thanks to the large number of European immigrants who moved to the United States.
Charles Beckman was a shoe merchant, a smart and astute businessman who had a brilliant idea for those times. He realized that most workers were wearing shoes that were not up to par, made poorly, and did not last. Mr. Beckman figured it would be a good idea for all workers to have shoes designed specifically for each type of work. So in 1905 he founded his own shoe company, Red Wing Shoes, and began manufacturing work shoes on a large scale.
The first to take advantage of the new Red Wing shoes were farmers and wheat growers – the ones really responsible for the economic growth of that Minnesota town – who started wearing the Black & Brown Chief Shoe made of leather and “manure proof” in 1912. We have no pictures or photographs of this shoe but it appears that it was a pull-on boot decorated on the sole with effigies of the famous Native American chief, Chief Red Wing.
The outbreak of World War I, however, changed the game. The men who worked in the factory were called to serve their country and were replaced by the women of the city who were the protagonists of the realization of the famous “Pershing Boot” or boot 1088, the shoe of the American army. It let in neither water nor moisture and protected against the cold making it the perfect shoe for the trenches. They were so successful that the 1088 boots continued to be extremely popular after the war ended.
The progressive modernization of the country led the oil industry to become more and more central to the U.S. economy and many workers began to work in this field. Of course, shoes were needed and Red Wing did not back down and in 1920 created the boot called Oil King, characterized by a very resistant leather and a comfort never experienced before.
These were the most prolific years for Red Wing Shoes that quickly became a very important company producing footwear for every kind of activity and person such as horse riding, leisure, boots for kids, those designed specifically for women, etc..
Everything was stopped by the Great Depression that hit the United States in 1929.
But as often happens, it is precisely in difficult times that the best ideas and solutions arrive.
Right at the end of the ’20s Red Wing began experimenting with a new type of sole, the rubber one. An innovation that not only drastically reduced the cost of making shoes but also gave the company the opportunity to make boot No. 99 that cost only $ 0.99 so everyone, even during a crisis so strong from an economic point of view, could afford comfortable and durable shoes to work.
The Second World War put the company’s finances and business back on track thanks to contracts with the government for the production of army boots, but the 1950s were important for Red Wing.
In 1952, the company launched the Irish Setter Sport Boots, a pair of mahogany-colored leather boots that echoed the color of an Irish setter, followed by the Moc-Toe and the Postman Oxford.
The Moc-Toe – in both versions, the original taller 877 and the 875 that came just above the ankle – made the big leap from work boots to leisure shoes, and are still among Red Wing’s best-selling and most iconic boots. Not coincidentally, the people mentioned at the beginning of this article, except for Kanye, all wore their own pair of Moc-Toes.
The 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were good years for Red Wing, until 1987 with the acquisition of S.B. Foot Tanning Company.
The 80’s were not easy at all but, thanks to the newfound passion for hiking in the following decade, the brand regained the polish of the 50’s and 60’s.
Although the ’90s were important for Red Wing, the quality of its products began to decline with the birth of sub-labels linked to the company and their production outside the United States. As of today, as far as we know, almost 60% of Red Wing footwear is produced on American soil. The decisive turning point, the one that (re)brought Red Wing to the center of the world, was the foundation of Red Wing Heritage.
The Heritage section of the brand has put back on the market the most famous and iconic models of Red Wing, with a completely Made in USA production that respects the high standards of the past.
A choice that has put back on the map of contemporary fashion a historic and very important workwear brand, projecting it – see the beginning of this article – into the stratosphere of hype that today dominates the main market dynamics.