Birkenstock celebrates the opening of its first American retail outlet in New York through a collaboration with New York-based artist Amit Greenberg.
Birkenstock initially came to the United States in the late 1960s when Margot Fraser first discovered the shoes during a spa trip in Germany. She was so impressed with the design and comfort of the sandal—she had suffered from foot pain—that she took it upon herself to bring them stateside. Although Birkenstock is carried in the United States, it took half a century for the German shoemaker to open its first retail outlet stateside. Birkenstock opened its first American store in New York at 120 Spring Street in SoHo marked by a collaboration and installation by New York-based artist Amit Greenberg specifically for the occasion. “He seems to really get what Birkenstock is all about, and I think he’s having some fun with the brand, and we’re having fun with him,” said Birkenstock Americas CEO David Kahan.
Greenberg got his first taste of Birkenstock when he was a teenager living in the beachside town of Haifa in Israel. “In the summer we were all wearing Birkenstock,” said Greenberg. “It was really cool, they were all around.” He’s since decamped for New York, where he’s lived for the last 14 years, aside from short stints in Paris and Los Angeles. “I remember I was scared to go to McCarren Park in the beginning,” recalled the artist, who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sarah Andelman from Colette had given Greenberg his first exhibition at the famed Paris concept chop in 2015, and she called on the artist for his quirky illustrations for Collete’s collaboration with Birkenstock that debuted in 2017.
When Greenberg was approached about doing the New York collaboration, he sent Birkenstock a treatment with the title, New Yorkers Are Strange and Beautiful Just Like Toes. The characters are royal blue, and they all reference Birkenstock, its German heritage, or New York, like the pretzel that says, “Ja, baby!”; or the woman carrying a tote bag and a dog; or the skater girl who Greenberg felt compelled to draw after seeing the film Skate Kitchen. Greenberg even invented a band of round creatures with long thin legs called Birkie & The Toes to show viewers around the Big Apple. “They’re an indie rock band that came from a German town in the middle of nowhere, and it’s their first time in New York City, and they’re like exploring the city, and they have German names,” explained the artist.
All of Greenberg’s characters for the SoHo store opening don a pair of Birkenstocks. “That was the whole idea of creating this collage of characters that are kind of like New Yorkers, and kind of funky and kind of trying to capture the essence of the funkiness and the fun of Birkenstock, but also the way it applies to New York City and the characters in it,” said the artist.