Ugg boots – the much-derided sheepskin footwear that helped define noughties style – are threatening to come back into fashion, if Vogue magazine, the Paris catwalks and trend-setting celebrities are to be believed.
“Rihanna and Sienna [Miller] lead the Ugg boot revival,” declared Vogue this week, after two of the most influential figures in fashion were spotted wearing the beige boots. Cara Delevingne, Jennifer Lopez and Heidi Klum have also recently been seen sporting a pair, and the actor Anna Faris wore Uggs to officiate a wedding earlier this month.
Uggs also popped up at Paris men’s fashion week last week, in their most edgy incarnations yet. At California-based Y/Project they were elephantine and thigh-high; wearing them was like “putting your thighs in butter”, said the footwear brand’s designer, Glenn Martens. They were also the star of the show at influential Japanese luxury brand Sacai, where they came in grey or camel versions, with the addition of a chunky knitted red and white upper.
The history of Uggs is much contested. The term “ugg” is a generic word for slippers in Australia, and the Ugg brand was launched in California in 1978. Their fashion heyday kicked off in 2000, when they were endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, and they received a further boost in the UK in 2004 when Sienna Miller wore a turned-down chestnut-coloured pair to Glastonbury. In Australia and the US, Uggs represent a relaxed, surfer-style lifestyle that appealed to off-duty celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker, who were often papped wearing them in Los Angeles with a latte in hand.
In recent years, their fashion credentials have waned, though they pop up occasionally: in 2012, Kate Moss was photographed wearing her mid-calf black pair while walking her dog, and Vogue preceded its current advocacy back in 2015 when it asked: “Isn’t it time that we embraced our guiltiest fashion pleasure?” Last year, collaborations with Jeremy Scott – in which Uggs were decorated with flame prints or encrusted with jewels – and British label Preen piqued the fashion pack’s interest again.
Not everyone will greet their return with glee. In 2010, the head of the British College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr Ian Drysdale, expressed concern at the lack of support Ugg-style boots provide, saying they could lead to ankle, hip and back problems. “Just because something becomes a trend or fashionable doesn’t mean it’s good or right,” he said.
Ugg’s recent collaborations with catwalk brands are part of a strategy to drive sales, partially in emerging international markets. The idea that the boots are – to use the pejorative term – “basic”, “is a very North American view, in no other region is this the understanding of the Ugg brand,” Andrea O’Donnell, the president of fashion lifestyle brands for Ugg holding company Deckers Brands, recently told trade publication WWD.
For O’Donnell, of course, Ugg boots are always on trend. She describes them as “one of those icons that’s kind of ugly-cool – but I think that is a very special thing”. In an era in which fashion brands such as Balenciaga and Vetements have been making wilfully ugly, awkward clothes the height of style, and fellow ugly shoe brands Crocs and Birkenstocks have had their recent moments on the catwalk, she might have a point.