If it seems like designers are taking a laidback approach to creating their Spring ’14 collections, they are. From warm hues to natural materials, the season looks to be awash in the West Coast’s finest relaxed attributes.
By Angela Velasquez
DID THE ENTIRE footwear industry stream The Endless Summer for design inspiration? Or is it just a coincidence that designers have collectively woken from their winter hibernation invigorated by the endless possibilities of sun-kissed, color-washed, über-casual designs for Spring ’14? At first peek, the season looks to be a case of California Dreamin’ all over again.
Deconstructed penny loafers, an abundance of canvas, warm shades of yellow, along with natural materials are all part of the Californication of footwear that has even swept up brands that traditionally skew East Coast, like Sebago and Sperry Top-Sider—both are as iconic to Nantucket and Cape Cod as the region’s lighthouses and lobster shacks. Bradley O’Brien, vice president of women’s design and global trends for Sperry Top-Sider, a division of Wolverine Worldwide, says the brand’s California-inspired end of the spring collection has a youthful, free spirit vibe reminiscent of the ’70s with salmon, orange, bright yellow and turquoise playing starring roles. “These colors are balanced with blushing bride pink and pretty violet,” she adds as an ode to sunsets and sunrises. Photo real images of beach landscapes, vibrant Hawaiian prints and Mexican serape stripes build upon the Baja look—the latter being a fresh alternative to last spring’s tiring obsession with Native American-inspired textiles.
Sister brand Hush Puppies is taking a more swingin’ approach to the California look with its laidback suede penny loafers and moc toes that call to mind the retro cool guy vibe of the Rat Pack lounging about The Beverly Hilton. That focus on easy-on, easy-off silhouettes is part of the brand’s reorganization of its casual product. “We’re focused on reinventing ourselves in the casual sector,” says Dana Strand, global product line manager, adding that Spring ’14 will revisit trend details Hush Puppies became known for in the early ’60s such as colorful suede piping on men’s shoes. Throwback geometric prints from the ’50s and ’60s lend a bright, yet nostalgic, feel to women’s shoes. Nods to the era’s jewelry and furniture are also spotted throughout the line. The brand is paying close attention to cup soles along the same vein of the So-Cal look made famous by Vans. “We’ve seen an increase of interest in that type of shoe for the last couple of seasons now,” Strand reports.
“We are happy that sneakers are again an interesting and relevant option for women outside of the gym,” says Tretorn designer Elizabeth Renda, adding that the trend suits the brand’s tomboy aesthetic for women to a tee. “We have a new sneaker style launching that is unlined, deconstructed and court based—elegant but relaxed at the same time,” she reports. The casual athletic shoe is a new category that Corso Como is digging into more deeply as well since a successful first run this spring. “We’re planning to redo the two styles we introduced with an expanded range of materials including more prints, lace details and new color combinations,” says Maxwell Harrell, president. “They look like a feminine Chuck Taylor.” While the exec believes in these streamlined casual kicks, he doesn’t expect to see the current rage of flashy wedge hi-tops sticking around for next spring. “It’s overdone now as it is and people will be past it by next spring,” he predicts. “People who are wearing wedge sneakers now will be the ones going for shoes with a chunkier heel.”
Less about surf culture and pick-up volleyball games and more along the lines of San Francisco, circa the Summer of Love, the more fashion-forward end of the California macro spring aesthetic involves bulky block heels, wood soles and the continuation of espadrilles and wedges. Block heels are a bolder look Harrell is vetting for, especially for customers who don’t want a ladylike single-sole pump. Vogue Footwear is bulking up with chunkier sandal silhouettes in more muted, less saturated color palettes with vegetable tanned leathers, including city-friendly fisherman sandals. The label’s assistant line builder, Jessica De Castro, notes that these styles will especially be important for later in the season and suit the trends toward tunics, maxi dresses and palazzo pants in women’s wear.
On the earlier end of the season spectrum, espadrilles and wedges are designers’ go-to source for adding a bit of height to their collections, although Strand believes after seasons of sky-high platforms, footwear will drop to lower heel heights. “Heels are not over, but the industry will be pulling back on them,” she predicts. Plus, these silhouettes are still ringing the registers, not to mention giving designers a broader canvas to tell their West Coast boho story by implementing more natural materials on the outsoles. Jute wrapped wedge sandals from Sebago, for example, offer a dressier alternative to the brand’s more streamlined and classic range of flats, and Hush Puppies is testing the waters with textile-wrapped wedges. “Cork is on a big comeback, too,” Harrell of Corso Como states, as a material for uppers and heels. Hush Puppies is bringing color-washed cork to wedges. O’Brien reports Sperry Top-Sider is playing with color-tinted and printed cork as well.
Au natural materials carry into women’s flats and men’s styles, too. Raffia adds a beachy, earthy texture to French Sole’s classic ballet flats, where macramé brings a bohemian flair to Sebago’s women’s sandals. On the men’s side, the label turned to even more natural elements to spruce up its mostly brown leather, canvas, suede and nubuck offerings. “Men’s are washed and distressed. They have a driftwood feel to them,” describes Gary Malamet, general manager. Similarly, Tretorn blended natural textures to its otherwise crisp spring range. “Our most compelling inspiration comes from looking at the interaction of natural elements like wood grains sitting alongside modern elements of urban life,” Renda explains. Linen and canvas are go-to fabrications for Tretorn to update some of its most popular styles including the Nylite sneaker and slip-on Skymra sneaker.
Like a fake tan, canvas—be it washed, crinkled, distressed or faded—may be the simplest way to convey the casual, coastal look permeating footwear without actually being a beach bum. On boat shoe silhouettes—the result is as idyllic as a California afternoon spent sipping piña coladas by the Pacific. Tretorn is updating its version of the boat shoe in fresh spring canvas colors.
Whether in canvas or leathers, Malamet of Sebago says boat shoes will be where you’ll see the most attention to color. “You’ll see more color in the Dockside shoe for women and men than anywhere else in the line. That’s where we play with color combinations,” he adds. On the flip side, the season’s key neutrals will conjure up images of dunes and seashells. “Men are still into traditional tans and muted grays,” Strand reports, “while women are seeing pastels as a new neutral, like softer hues of green and purple.” Restricted General Manager James Matush expects pale peach, rose and blush pinks to be key, as well as nude. Tretorn, Dansko and French Sole are using tan, slate and oyster gray tones in lieu of bright white. “We like the freshness of grayed-off neutrals,” says Ann Dittrich, Dansko creative director. She adds that these colors are sophisticated and versatile enough to wear with any number of clothing choices.
A wild card for what plays well next spring fashion-wise is the lingering memory of this spring’s weather or, more precisely, the lack of warmth nearly nationwide. Whereas in recent seasons retailers complained about sluggish boot sales due to mild winters, this year sandals have collected dust as the nation shivered in one of the coldest springs on record. While one can never predict the weather accurately from one season to the next (remember last spring featured record warmth), Hush Puppies’ Strand expects the cold to impact Spring ’14 buying patterns. As such, she advises, “The key is to focus on transitional styles with a mix of open- and close-toe silhouettes.” And depending on how fashion-forward your clientele is, you might already be seeing this trend in apparel. Strand says this spring men and women are taking it upon themselves to make their wardrobe more counter seasonal by wearing full-length pants rolled up at the first hint of sunshine, which just so happens to be the perfect style to show off new shoes while strolling along the beach.