If you haven’t seen the big red boots, then you will. Like the latest strain of Covid, they are coming for you and resistance is futile. They will not sleep until every poor soul has been forced to look upon them and weep. Or laugh. Or both.
You see, New York art collective MSCHF’s new shoe is not really a shoe at all. Sure, it is vaguely shoe-shaped, and it goes on your foot. It even looks quite comfortable, if not a little sweaty. But the shoe is more of a moment than a sartorial accessory, a thing designed to be seen on a screen, rather than worn in day-to-day life. "Cartoon boots for a Cool 3D World," say MSCHF. "Cartoonishness is an abstraction that frees us from the constraints of reality. If you kick someone in these boots they go BOING!"
There is simply zero chance that anyone willing to pay the $350 price tag (or £1000+ on the secondary market) wouldn’t post a picture of them on social media. None at all. And judging by the MSCHF Sneakers Instagram account, which is just a feed of influencers wearing the brand’s shoes, we can assume that’s what the brand wants them to be, too.
The same can be said for loads of stuff. Much of what we buy is not because the something appeals to us in some innate way, or because it’s objectively beautiful or stylish, or because we simply want to wear it at the weekend, but because it will look good on social media. By buying and photographing the thing, strangers on the internet will be impressed - a new kind of fashion that is neither stylish nor unstylish.
Take the bomber jacket Kanye West made with Gap as an example. It seems like a long time ago now (much to Gap’s relief, no doubt), but for a brief moment the swollen piece of outerwear was everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except the real world. Did you see anyone in the pub wearing that jacket? Or was it just on Instagram and Tiktok, followed by Depop and Ebay? Maybe you managed to buy one… where is it now?
It's different to other fashion stuff that you buy, photograph and share. The half-life of a pair of furry Gucci mules, for example, is much longer. Despite being perceived as pretty outré when they dropped a few years ago, they delivered on social clout, and were then absorbed into the collective aesthetic. When people wear them now no-one bats an eyelid.
Then you have the pieces that make a splash, but retain a tangible value. The new Tiffany Air Force Ones or the carry-on from the imminent collaboration between Palace and Rimowa will exist online as social currency for a little while, then evolve into a traded commodity with a value based on scarcity. The MSCHF boots are currently listed at a 400% premium on reselling sites, but will that last? Their sheer ridiculousness would suggest not. (Ironically, the cloutiest thing you could do would be to wear the AFOs to death. And no special-edition Rimowa will ever be as cool as one that’s dented to hell from years of use.)
This is perhaps an overly earnest, po-faced take. MSCHF’s red boots are fun, and fun is nice. Plus they form part of a wider trend for cartoon shoes, featuring the Minnie Mouse pumps at Loewe and JW Anderson's frog slides, made in partnership with children's rubber boot brand, Wellipets.
Is there a difference? Well, the JWA and Loewe shoes were part of wider seasonal collections by a designer with a long track record for idiosyncratic design, so perhaps Anderson has more credit in the bank. MSCHF is a brand built on stunts designed to make as much noise as possible, and they're really good at it. But launches come with an element of cynicism baked-in.
In 2020 MSCHF bought one of Damien Hirst's spot prints for $30k, cut out all the spots and soled them individually for $480 a pop, then sold the original, perforated artwork (re-titled '88 Holes') for $261k. A brilliant satire. But the red boots aren't quite as slick. At some point soon they will be just a social artefact buried deep on someone's grid, but not before people spend lots of money.