While there may not be any one word to describe our collective state of limbo, one footwear category has emerged, like a gentle intervention, to help us stand astride the void. It’s a water shoe moment.
Water shoes, or amphibious footwear, as those in the industry refer to it, were made for moments defined by being in between. Not quite a sneaker, not simply a sandal, and unequivocally not a Croc, water shoes were designed for ease of movement between water and land, without emphasizing one over the other, all the while allowing feet to dry quickly so as to prevent athlete’s foot.
As far as footwear comes, it is the closest thing to a cure for uncertainty. Or as Teva, the pioneering company in amphibious footwear, used to say: “Free your feet and your mind will follow.”
The present-day demand for footwear that offers no inhibition has spurred luxury brands and performance footwear makers to reimagine the category for strange times. Earlier this spring, before the coronavirus brought daily life to a halt, Balenciaga sent its models splashing down the runway in water shoes, an ode to climate change.
For the last year, Kanye West’s Yeezy brand has been teasing a “foam runner,” made in part from hydroponically produced algae, which is reportedly planned for a 2020 release.
In March, the leap became most visible when Hoka One One, a forward-thinking maker of running shoes, introduced its Hopara line of high-performance water shoes, made to “fly” over terrains as diverse as “remote forests” or “urban jungles.” Built on a paunchy mound of rubberized ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), the Hopara arrived in the mold of the company’s tumescent running shoes, whose strange geometry has helped attract a fanatic fan base.
The Hopara veers into less familiar territory with cutouts slashed into its sides, for easy water drainage, and a rubberized toecap that looks like a small plate of armor, to protect against riverbed rocks. Despite its bulky appearance, the shoes weigh only 12 ounces.
What the Hopara makes clear is that the water shoe is moving into that final evolutionary stage of footwear: the street wear grail. In this case, a grail worn predominantly by those who will likely never reach the trails and streams for which the shoes are intended.
Kaitlin Phillips, a publicist and writer who lives in New York but who was born and raised in Montana, home to an avid hiking community, prefers to walk around Manhattan in her Chaco water shoes because they are so comfortable. “I don’t know how many pairs I have,” she said.
Ms. Phillips said she has witnessed the rise of the water shoe on New York streets, specifically among people in the arts scene. She pointed out that Camilla Deterre, an artist and model, recently flaunted her new Merrell Hydro Mocs on Instagram. And Brendan Dugan, the owner of the Karma gallery in the East Village, is often seen at openings in Birkenstock EVA sandals.
After Hoparas were recommended in GQ (which…
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