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.
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, anyway. 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. Keds
is making a play for the hipsters now. Isn’t irony the dreamiest?