Bella Hadid was spotted on the streets of New York City in September of last year wearing a daring attire that immediately got the internet buzzing. Her outfit’s bottom half made a bigger statement than her slick leather racing jacket. Hadid opted for white men’s jeans instead of pants, which she paired with a pair of classic tiny platform Ugg boots: a revised version of Ugg’s original boot with a new, substantial two-inch outsole.
The “no trousers” look is a topic for another day, but when Hadid donned the massive Ugg boots (introduced last year), it sparked a new design trend. Hadid’s look instantly went viral on TikTok, and according to Lyst, the style quickly sold out and saw a 152% rise in searches. Street style stars like Emily Ratajkowski and Gigi Hadid quickly adopted them. Suddenly, the Ugg small platform became the hottest new shoe in fashion, fetching up to double the $150 retail price on resale sites like StockX. Even today, it’s difficult to locate your size in the original black or chestnut colorways—they’re very impossible to come by. This Ugg boot mania has been thrilling to watch unfold for Helene Frain, Ugg’s vice president of footwear design. “It’s a really good feeling to see someone wearing your product on the street,” she explains.
However, this is not the first time Ugg has created a shoe that everyone wants. After peaking in popularity in the 2000s, the newfound interest in Ugg boots is more of a comeback tale than a star-making one. The label was started in 1978 in California by Australian surfer Brian Smith, who intended to make a shoe out of his favourite material, sheepskin. He went on to design the company’s iconic Ugg, a shearling-lined boot designed for maximum comfort, and by the 1980s, the plushy style had become synonymous with SoCal beach culture, especially as it became a popular item carried in the state’s surf stores. However, Frain claims that there were Ugg-boot sceptics even back then. “At first, the Ugg boot was thought to be strange,” explains Frain. “This is an unusual shape.” But once you start to connect with it, it sneaks up on you; people notice how beautiful and bold it is.”
Ugg continued on its path to mainstream success after being purchased by Deckers Brands in 1995. After Oprah Winfrey featured the classic Ugg boot on her famous favorite-things list in 2000, it quickly became a celebrity staple worn by stars such as Paris Hilton, Beyoncé, and Kate Moss—all of whom styled it with their best Juicy Couture sweats or low-rise jeans. “[The Y2K era] really put the brand on the map from a fashion standpoint,” Frain explains. But, like everything else in fashion, the craze for Ugg boots faded, and by the 2010s, they were out of style. “Ten years ago, the boot was not associated with coolness, and it was a shame, because that boot is a piece of design heritage,” Frain adds. That’s what inspired Frain and her design team to create the new viral mini and platform boots: They wanted to reintroduce Uggs to the fashion world and remind people why they fell in love with the shoes in the first place. “We wanted to celebrate our icon,” she explains.
Still, it’s not easy to launch a product and have the world love it, especially if the shoe has previously been a worldwide phenomenon. For Frain, who has been in charge of Ugg’s footwear design for over six years, the idea began with her design team looking at the classic Ugg and imagining how they could modernise it. “It really all started with the silhouette,” Frain explains. “When you have such a wonderful icon like that, you can do so many crazy things with it; the team came up with really amazing, creative ideas to celebrate that.” Shortening the cut and adding a thick platform felt modern and like the right approach to bring the Ugg into the present. “These were just things that made sense to us,” Frain explains. “A lot of what we do is based on the sensation we want to give customers. A platform provides you confidence and a place in the world. It will make you stand out and feel extremely secure.”
With its buzzy fashion partnerships, the Ugg design team has continued to push the boundaries of what a Ugg boot may look like, which has played an important role in increasing Ugg’s cool factor. For example, this year, the footwear firm collaborated with designers such as Telfar Clemens and Shayne Oliver on subversive new Ugg boot shapes; Telfar made logo boots, and Oliver created a cushioned, futuristic Armourite boot. This week, Ugg also debuted its latest collaboration with skate brand Palace, which has a lightning bolt print on the traditional Ugg boot. According to Frain, there will be many more of these collaborations in the future. “Collaborations are incredibly important for the future,” Frain says. “They offer a completely new and different perspective on the brand.” “It feels like this perception of what the brand is shifting,” Frain says. “People are finally seeing the brand’s potential.”
Of course, when a brand is enjoying such a great and desirable period, there is a risk that the momentum will abruptly stop. While ugly-chic shoes like Crocs and Salomons are currently popular in the fashion world, this will not be the case next season. Frain and the Ugg design team, on the other hand, are unconcerned about Uggs becoming a fad; in fact, they do not consider themselves to be part of the ugly-chic trend at all. “We understand that the ‘ugly chic’ shoe trend is popular and prevalent, but we’re not that,” Frain explains. “What we’re doing is incredibly elegant, insightful, and well-crafted. Our customers’ connection to the brand is based on honesty, not sarcasm.
Ugg has also pushed outside of its typical footwear domain in order to avoid becoming another kitschy, transitory shoe trend. Ugg intends to maintain the brand’s excitement in the future by expanding its handbag and garment divisions. (Telfar created small shearling Ugg bags, and Feng Chen Wang cooperated on shearling Ugg coats.) “Our future holds more categories, and we want to keep the innovation going,” Frain says. In terms of footwear, the brand intends to expand its selection of more avant-garde unisex styles. “We take people by surprise with products they don’t expect from us,” adds Frain. The label is also focused on environmental efforts, such as Uggrenew, a refurbishment programme that allows customers to fix their existing Ugg boots. “We’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint, and we have long-term goals and investments with our products being composed of regeneratively sourced materials,” Frain says.
Whatever viral design Ugg plans to introduce in the near future, you can always count on the brand’s collections to reference its most iconic classic boot. That is, don’t anticipate a sleek, non-shearling shoe or stiletto anytime soon. “When we put a product out, we really want it to feel right,” Frain explains. “We don’t want to appear to be trying too hard or phoney.” The brand has previously encountered popular mania, so this time it’s doubling down on its divisive cosy boot—and backing it up with pride. “Fashion can be cyclical, so the brands that stay true to their roots—and find ways to be in sync with the trends—are the ones that stay on top of it,” Frain adds. “Our North Star is the Ugg boot.” It’s a gem from our past that holds the key to our future.”