Keds, for those of you who missed the early ’90s, were once the hottest shoes around, worn by every YM-reading girl in America who thought Zack Morris was just the dreamiest. Now, the company’s trying to grow up a little and, on top of some low-key self-promotion (forget Mischa Barton), they’ve hired shoe designers straight from the halls of the Whitney Museum. First up: the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer.
Holzer is, in many ways, the perfect marketing tool. She earned her star projecting aphorisms and other text in conspicuous places: “Your oldest fears are the worst ones” running across a billboard in Times Square; “Survival: Savor Kindness Because Cruelty is Always Possible Later” etched in white marble at the Venice Guggenheim; and so on. From a branding perspective, her stuff has just the right mix of catchiness and surprise.
And so for Keds, she wields her mighty cliches yet again. On each dainty sneaker, it says, “Protect me from what I want” in all caps. The shoes go on sale next month for a limited time at Bloomingdale’s as part of Keds’s sponsorship of the Whitney, where Holzer has exhibited. In the fall, Keds will show off collections from two more artists — Laura Owens and Sarah Crowner — who’ve also been featured at the Whitney.
Hitching big names to shoes is nothing new. Carlos Santana made a second and, some would argue, more successful, career of selling oversexed footwear to the ladies. We all remember Kanye West‘s unremarkable stint as a shoe designer. And Air Jordans? Grown men still get weak in the knees talking about their first pair. But Holzer isn’t exactly a household name. And the sneakers aren’t exactly designed as commercial knockouts.
But that doesn’t seem to be what Keds is after, any way. In March, the president of Keds told the New York Times that the company’s intended audience was “24-year-old millennials who are attracted to creativity.” Certainly, “Protect Me From What I Want” sounds innocuous enough to please the corporate mucky mucks. But it could also be a bit of a provocation — protect me from what I want, including these shoes. Kedsis making a play for the hipsters now. Isn’t irony the dreamiest?