Hollywood is feeling sheepish, ugly and warm

Anti-fashionistas are embracing footwear from Down Under

December 07, 2003|By Booth Moore | Booth Moore,Los Angeles Times

Who says sensible shoes can't be chic? After seasons of teetering atop their Manolos, the style mavens are stepping out in Uggs, the shapeless sheepskin clodhoppers that are downright ugly.

First popular here in the early 1980s with the surf set, in the past few months Uggs have migrated to the streets. Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are wearing them to keep warm on cold soundstages, and stylists are tucking jeans into them or pairing them with miniskirts for a kind of rugged, anti-fashion statement.

"I live in mine. They're like wearing a pair of socks," said Jessica Paster, a wardrobe stylist whose clients Minnie Driver, Jewel and LeAnn Rimes are also Ugg aficionados. "God bless the girls who can run around in high heels, but they are all going to have varicose veins by the time they're 35," said Paster, who has pairs in black, sand and blue.

Regular people are padding around in them, too.

"I don't think they are the cutest shoes in the world," said Marissa Liu, 15, a student at Santa Monica High School in California, who has worn Uggs for three years. "But they are incredibly comfortable and warm and fun."

But really, sheepskin boots in sunny Southern California? "We're kind of cold-blooded, I guess," Liu said.

Designed to be worn without socks, the most popular styles are Ugg Australia's classic tall and classic short boots, especially those in the new, hotter-than-hot blush pink and powder blue shades. If you can find them, they sell for $110 to $185 at Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, surf shops and smaller boutiques.

"It's a bad year to be a sheep," said Dave Hollander, president and co-owner of Becker Surf & Sport. In the 20 years since he began carrying Uggs in his five Southern California stores, he's never seen anything like the current fuzzy footwear frenzy. "We got our shipment in August and it was gone in a matter of days."

A production assistant from NBC's Will & Grace bought a pair, only to return several days later at the producer's behest to buy boots for everyone on the set, Hollander said. "We had 18 pairs and that's all we could give them. ... We're almost in a state of harassment here."

Nordstrom is facing the same problem. "The demand is outstripping the supply," said Scott Meden, a buyer for the store's women's shoe division. "We're taking names and sizes from customers, and when they come in, we'll call."

The journey of the ungainly boot from the wilds of Australia to the streets of Hollywood is a strange one. Although not in any dictionary, in Australia "ugg" is a generic term for a sheepskin boot. With roots going back to the days when European settlers first brought sheep "Down Under," ugg boots were originally a cottage industry. They became a commercial product only after being embraced by surfers as standard apres-surf equipment in the 1970s.

Legend has it that Australian surfer Nat Young stumbled across the boots in 1969 in South Australia. (The pair he saw had been cobbled together by the father of a surf buddy.) Young was so taken with them that he asked Shane Steadman, a surfboard producer, to help him manufacture a pair. Soon, Steadman began selling the boots for about $15. They caught on first with surfers, and then with gauche suburbanites.

"Uggs were resolutely lower class," said Shelli-Anne Couch, a fashion publicist in L.A. who grew up in Australia in the 1970s. "They were worn by Westies, the kind of people who would have fuzzy dice hanging from their rearview mirrors. ... They've only recently become popular in Australia because American movie stars started wearing them."

Couch, whose father was a rancher in Victoria, has always been in the ugg-wearing camp. "I wear them with my pj's, but I've also been known to wear them under a ball gown to get 'round at an event."

"I see them as a form of contraception," said her husband, Gavin Brennan.

Uggs arrived stateside in 1978, when Australian surfer Brian Smith tried to peddle a few pairs around New York City to no avail. Eventually, the boots found their market in Southern California, and Smith created the Ugg Australia label. In the mid-1990s, he sold it to Goleta, Calif.-based Deckers Outdoors Corp., which also makes slippers, clogs and women's outerwear under the trademarked Ugg Australia brand.

Although there are plenty of men's Ugg boots still on store shelves this season, there's a drought of women's styles.

"This year things exploded," said Ugg Australia President Connie Rishwain. "We're the largest sheepskin manufacturer in the world, and still the demand is just too much. The addition of the pink and blue boots has been crazy. We sold 20,000 pairs of those just by showing buyers pictures of what they were going to look like. Now, we've sold out of every pair, and we're filling orders for next April. It's really become a year-round business, where it used to be a holiday thing."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.