It started with Rihanna, as these things so often do.
It was the halcyon days of 2018 and the pop singer and fashion icon wore a pair of Uggs to — where else? — the Coachella music festival.
Not your average pair, like the classic boots made famous by a Juicy Couture-clad Lindsay Lohan at the height of her Us Weekly fame in the early aughts. This pair was a collaboration with Belgian designer Glenn Martens of the avant-garde label Y/Project, who exploded the ostentatiously unsexy style to Brobdingnagian proportions, yielding a version that was high-heeled and slouchy and reached well above mid-thigh. A picture of Rihanna in the wader-like footwear amassed more than 3.3 million likes on Instagram, and even Vogue couldn’t resist their strange allure.
“The CFO was not super-excited about them,” Andrea O’Donnell, Ugg brand president, recalled. After seeing a CNN news segment of the Y/Project runway show in which they were unveiled, “he came in and said, ‘Tell me that I didn’t see thigh-high boots, on a catwalk, worn by a man,’” she said, laughing.
O’Donnell had been hired in 2016 to help reposition the brand with consumers who associated Ugg with the classic boot in its purest form: shin-high, slip-on, mocha brown and lined in sheepskin. It was a casual style, to be worn with yoga pants while running errands. Ugg wanted to widen its image to encompass more fashion-forward associations.