Sassy slippers going places

NEW YORK• Mr Eric Edwards, 32, a general manager of a bakery in Houston, and Mr Wilbur L. Ross Jr, 79, the billionaire and Commerce Secretary for United States President Donald Trump's administration, have at least one thing in common. Both are devoted clients of the footwear brand Stubbs & Wootton, known for its patterned and embroidered slippers.

Made in velvet, linen and needlepoint, they are sold custom-made or off the rack and retail from about US$450 (S$637) to US$1,000 a pair, available at the Stubbs & Wootton store in Palm Beach, Florida, its shoebox-size shop at the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street in Manhattan or online. Many of the slippers bear sassy messages. One popular style has an embroidered screw on the right shoe and the letter U on the left. Another style is decorated with wasps.

Mr Ross was seen wearing a pair of black slippers embroidered with the Commerce Department's logo at Mr Trump's first speech to a joint session of Congress late last month, spotted by eagle-eyed reporters who shared screen grabs on Twitter of Mr Ross' velvet-clad feet.

Mr Edwards wore his most recently purchased pair, black velvet with embroidered golden lions, to his best friend's wedding, held last month during the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.

To walk the bride down the aisle, he paired the shoes with shredded jeans, an oxford-cloth shirt bought for US$6 at a thrift shop and a blue blazer.

He is on his 11th pair of Stubbs & Wootton slippers, which he buys new and used and which, he said, deliver more value and style than the US$900 Gucci sneakers his friends splurge on.


Stubbs & Wootton’s embroidered slippers with their Instagram-bait imagery are drawing younger customers. PHOTO: NYTIMES

"I'm very image-savvy and I'm very frugal," he said.

After years of being a wardrobe staple for the lockjaw set from Palm Beach to Newport, Rhode Island, Stubbs & Wootton shoes are enjoying a surge in popularity among younger customers drawn to their old-money wryness and Instagram-bait imagery.

"I call them emoji shoes," Mr Edwards said.

The brand is a big deal on college campuses these days.

"It's a really fun shoe because it's like a bumper sticker for your foot," said Ms Grace Wiener, 21, president of WFUStyle, a fashion club and website run by students at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Late last month, she chased down a friend she saw on campus who was wearing Stubbs & Wootton loafers. They were black velvet. The right shoe had DU stitched on it in blue; the left had MB.

"It was around mid-terms and I said to her, 'I need a picture because that is so how I feel right now'."

Ms Wiener posted the image on the fashion club's Instagram. "Feet-selfies" are a big trend, she noted - some are calling them "solefies" - and the graphic slippers stand out.

"They add diversity to one's Instagram feed," she said.

Perhaps this is not what Percy Steinhart had in mind when he founded the company in Palm Beach in 1993 to create an all-purpose slipper for men and women by adding a dash of contemporary whimsy.

Steinhart, who came to the United States as a Cuban exile in 1960 when he was 10, had wanted to name the company Holden & Caulfield, but "my lawyer told me Salinger would rake me over the coals", Steinhart wrote in an e-mail.

(He declined to take part in a phone interview, he wrote, "out of respect for my friend and client Wilbur Ross and the office of the secretary of commerce and my political neutrality".)

Steinhart, who said one of his great-grandfathers went to Cuba with former US president Theodore Roosevelt and eventually became US consul in Havana, settled on the name Stubbs & Wootton, in homage to English painters George Stubbs and John Wootton.

The company website explains why: "Both specialised in painting scenes of gentlemanly sporting, whose influence is so fittingly tied to our eternal pursuit of elegance."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Sassy slippers going places'. Print Edition | Subscribe