Style | February 26, 2021 3:51 pm

How Did Birkenstock Become a Luxury Brand?

The purveyor of "ugly" sandals joins the LVMH family

Birkenstock bought by LVMH-backed group
Once considered a fashion don't, the Birkenstock is now an industry favorite.
ARNO BURGI/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Once looked down upon by the fashion elite, German sandal maker Birkenstock now finds itself in the company of Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, as a majority stake of the brand estimated at some $4.87 billion has been acquired by Bernard Arnault, the man behind the luxury behemoth LVMH. Owners Christian and Alex Birkenstock sold more than half the firm to Financière Agache, the Arnault family’s holding company, and L Catterton, the private-equity formed co-owned by Arnault.

The acquisition speaks to the often fickle nature of the fashion industry, and how an item once all but shunned can quickly become “in.” It wasn’t long ago that the Birkenstock was worn almost exclusively by outdoorsy and granola types, derided by the industry as decidedly ugly. The tides eventually turned when the “ugliness” of the shoe was deemed chic, and designers began offering their own high-end interpretations of the sandal.

In recent years the brand has collaborated with a range of luxury designers and streetwear brands, including Rick Owens, Valentino and Stüssy, further cementing the shoes as a fashion darling. Couple this popularity with the surge in searches the brand has experienced as a result of the coronavirus and it’s no wonder the investment proved so alluring not only to Arnault but private equity group CVC Capital, who also made a competing bid.

According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, Birkenstock made the deal with the belief that it would allow the brand’s business to grow in places like India and China, as well as further expand its breadth of products that extend beyond shoes and includes everything from skincare to mattresses. The effects of the brand’s newfound proximity to luxury remains to be seen, but it’s suffice to say that Birks are officially en vogue.