Photograph courtesy of Suicoke.

Yes, My Spiritually Deformed Fashionistas: Sandals Can Be “Brutalist”

A new shoe makes claims on a frequently misused art term.

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Aug 24 2018, 7:27pm

Photograph courtesy of Suicoke.

In brutalist architecture, hulking masses of cold, emotionless concrete come together to form intimidating-looking but extremely functional buildings. Think large-scale housing, government offices, urban universities, and expensive avant-garde houses. The architectural style hasn’t really been in favor since the mid-1970s, but in recent years, the term has become a design buzzword that has been applied (with varying degrees of accuracy) to Instagram aesthetics, as Jo Livingstone wrote in The New Republic today; web design; fashion; cooking; and now...designer sandals.

We get it. It is a cool-sounding word! The term “brutalist” originates from the French word for “raw,” referencing raw concrete material most widely used in the first boom of the architectural style in the 1950s. That exact vernacular, and the ins and outs of the aesthetic, had been mostly been limited to conversations between architecture and design nerds until fairly recently.

The latest example of egregious overextension of the word comes from British brutalist homewares company Concrete Objects and Japanese comfort footwear label Suicoke. (Hypebeast wrote of the collaboration with the headline “Concrete Objects Reveals Brutalist-Inspired Suicoke Collab.”) As far as expensive new-wave sandals go (it sells for $380), the thing is pretty gorgeous. The sole is constructed from robust rubber produced by the Italian mountaineering company Vibram; cow leather and suede are dyed various shades of grey to mimic concrete; and flourishes like steel hoops, fastening strap, and crystal resin tabs round out the sandal’s design.

But a sandal is supposed to be comfortable, whereas staring at a brutalist building is supposed to be so honest and bare that it make you feel ill at ease. Can a brutalist-inspired sandal actually exist? It’s an area as grey as the concrete brutalists love so much. Many brutalist architects approached their work with a starkly aggressive attitude, but never seemed to lose sight of the people who would be working and living within their structures. As long as today’s designers are making products to serve the people who use them, then maybe they’re brutalists after all.