Sperry, the signature shoe brand of the nautical crowd has gone Broadway. It is no longer just doing summer stock around the docks of Nantucket and Marblehead. This 77-year-old, iconic shoe brand is having a significant fashion moment. It has truly achieved cult status and is being worn by stylish women and pretty-young-things, year round. You know you have arrived, when Nordstrom gives you full tables of the best real estate in the shoe department, adjacent to Uggs! They have become a most-wanted shoe by coastal prepsters and comfort-seeking fashion lovers alike.
In recent years, Sperry has taken more fashion risks with color and unique materials and patterns. The beloved Top-Siders have been updated with tasteful glitter, sequins, quilting (see my fav Black Quilted Authentic 2-Eye Boat Shoe ), metallics, patent leather and prints. They have kept the original spirit of the brand, and intrigued a new generation. The looks are optimistic and playful, never drab and street-oriented. Color is a key driver for the classic market. This is generally the formula for updating an iconic shoe, don’t mess with the original “chassis”, just give it a modern, body restoration. Once you have renewed the brand core, you can add new models, wedges, sandals and boots.
Sperry’s recent collaboration with up-market Milly was a brilliant move. Milly appeals to the modern classic Kate Spade and Tory Burch crowd. Milly is the second best thing to doing it with Tory. Touché. (See Milly for Sperry)
Sadly, their cousin Keds hasn’t had the same success. In my opinion, it has been a series of missteps, low-end distribution, off-the-mark colors and patterns. They also have tried too hard to make it hip and young, instead of taking an ageless, lifestyle approach. The ageless approach is inherent in successful color-driven classic brands, i.e. Ralph Lauren, Coach, Jack Rogers, Lily Pulitzer, Vera Bradley, J. Crew, etc.
My only issue is with Sperry’s stores. The brand experience in the stores is generic and overly literal to the waterfront theme…think flags and wood. They should have taken a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to their by-the-water identity. The stores are incongruous to their new-found fashion status. They could have paid subtle homage to their heritage while creating an upscale fashion lifestyle store. As a Sperry fashion customer, I don’t want to identify with the brand in their stores’ terms. I want the “reassurance” of buying my Sperry’s at Nordstrom. Let’s face it; their best marketing coup is an aisle table in Nordstrom!
In my opinion Sperry has the potential to become a complete lifestyle brand. They have already licensed numerous products including eyewear, luggage and watches. They should capitalize on the current success of accessory categories and keep apparel offerings minimal. With razor-sharp vision and continued risk taking, I think this beloved vintage brand has potential to become a lifestyle powerhouse, in the likes of Coach.