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Hey, Quick Question: Why Do People Have Such Strong Feelings About Those Big Red Boots?

And how did they become so ubiquitous before ever being sold?

Photo: Garrett Bruce/Courtesy of MSCHF

Welcome to our column, “Hey, Quick Question,” where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries.

It feels like that big red boot has been everywhere online. 

Models like Wisdom Kaye proclaimed their love on Twitter, while music artists like Lil WayneCoi Leray and Diplo were clobbering around in them on Instagram. They have been brilliantly memed. Fashion favorites like Keke Palmer confirmed, respectfully, that they will not be wearing them. What is it about these clunky boots that stirs up so many strong feelings? 

First, some background: These shoes were created by the New York-based art collective MSCHF, which calls them “Cartoon boots for a Cool 3D World,” per a press release. Posts about them have racked up nearly 115 million views on TikTok.

“Cartoonishness is an abstraction that frees us from the constraints of reality,” the press release reads. “If you kick someone in these boots, they go BOING!” 

The boots are cartoonishly huge, a challenge to style, weird to walk in and rather impractical, since they’re also very hard to take off. But they’re still winning folks over: As Kaye put it on TikTok, “It’s a goofy shoe. You just gotta be goofy with it.” 

But is there more to it than them just being…fun?

A timeline of the big red boots

MSCHF’s cartoon shoes hit the net last Monday, Feb. 6, but they don’t go on sale until the 16th. 

Official lifestyle imagery featuring model Sarah Snyder quickly proliferated on social media and sites like Hypebeast. Celebrity and influencer placements quickly followed, ensuring virality. Among the first to step out in (or at least share images on social media of) the boots: Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kaye, Suki Baby, Lil Wayne, WWE wrestlers, Rich the Kid, Janelle Monáe and Diplo

Online publications were quick to cover the trending footwear: There were write-ups everywhere from Highsnobiety to the New York Times to CNN.

Building up discourse and desire before a release date is a classic shoe drop strategy. Still, it’s rare for an item to become this ubiquitous before it hits the market. The MSCHF marketing department clearly did its job.

Is there a deeper meaning to the big red boots?

Why are MSCHF’s cartoonish shoes getting this much attention? Jordan Zwang, the brand’s head of sneakers and special projects, suspects it has something to do with nostalgia. After all, many have pointed out how much the boots recall characters like “Astro Boy,” “Dora the Explorer” and Ronald McDonald — all animations from your childhood.

“I think everybody has their own reference to what the boot looks like, which I think is that nostalgic feel,” Zwang tells Fashionista, declining to comment further on the design process.

Nostalgia and ridiculousness alone aren’t always enough to make a fashion item go viral, let alone reach this level of virality. Could there be something else behind everyone’s strong opinions on these big red boots?

It could potentially be linked to fashion’s recent fascinations with the digital world and surrealismGucci has popped up in the metaverse pop-up, and Burberry’s made digital bags. Metaverse fashion stylists and fashion week are things that exist. Until recently, you could buy an Hermès Birkin NFT. Loewe made waves last season for garments that appear pixelated. MSCHF’s big red boots are like an Uno reverse card between the digital and physical planes: These are a tangible cartoon, connecting the two worlds. If fashion is a tool for transforming the body, these practically turn you into an animated cyborg.

Digital creator Agus Panzoni, for one, argued on Instagram that the boots represent the “fashion of hyperreality”: “If technology has gotten really good at representing reality… why can’t we bring implications of reality to life?” 

It’s also not the first time we’ve seen comically proportioned boots make waves online. Just over a year ago (before his fall from grace and wrath of anti-Semitic remarks), Kanye was making headlines for his big black boots by Balenciaga, which were similarly clunky and oversized, but with a more traditional combat-boot silhouette. But those certainly didn’t command the sort of widespread attention MSCHF’s fire-red leg buckets have.

What’s MSCHF’s deal?

MSCHF is built on stunts and on viral lookalike products. (It’s actually facing a growing list of lawsuits.) Remember Lil Nas X‘s “Nike” sneakers with a vial of blood inside (that people dubbed “satan shoes”)? That had the internet up in arms, and Nike suing for trademark infringement? That was MSCHF. And that WD-40 scented perfume, those shoes that look like a cast and the sour Gobstomper sneakers? Also MSCHF.

The brand aims to subvert “mass/popular culture and corporate operations as tools for critique and intervention,” per its website. These boots may be MSCHF’s biggest success so far, at least in terms of reach. 

Photo: Courtesy of MSCHF

So… What happens now?

On Thursday, the boots will become available to buy. Will they sell out? And even if they do, will they stand the test of time, or disappear as quickly as they came?

Some critique the big red boots’ (likely) short life span, particularly as conversations about sustainability in the fashion industry grow more serious. Esquire’s Charlie Teasdale wrote that while the collective’s 2020 Damien Hirst Stunt was “a brilliant satire… the red boots aren’t quite as slick. At some point soon, they will be just a social artifact buried deep on someone’s grid, but not before people spend lots of money.”

Plus, for those concerned with practicality, a lot of videos of the boots show how hard it is to take them off. There are no laces or tongue. “The best way to do it is by taking the top part, pushing it down and then grabbing your foot out,” offers Zwang.

MSCHF’s big red boots drop on Feb. 16 at 11:00 a.m. ET with a retail price of $350. Though, their resale value is already over $1,000, while inexpensive knock-offs have already appeared on the market.

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