Friday, July 28, 2017

Suede shoes and Hush Puppies the All American hero

When the British Army were serving in the North African campaigns of the Second World War, they wore boots made from suede uppers with lightweight and hard wearing crepe soles. These were called desert boots and were worn slightly bigger than the foot which gave them increased surface area which made them ideal for walking across sand. The desert boots were soft and comfortable and many officers had hand-made suede shoes crafted by Egyptian cobblers to keep as souvenirs. In England these became very popular just after the war and became associated with older single men who had for one reason not got married (perhaps because of the war). Many frequented the clubs and pubs of the red light districts of city centres and became known as lounge lizards and their ‘brothel creepers.’

Until this time suede footwear for men was always considered inappropriate male dress generally regarded as shoes for the effete. A decade later a more crude form of desert boot was worn by the Teddy boys of the Rock’n’roll era and these were more macho and menacing.

In the in the early 1900s, G.A. Krause founded a tannery and shoe factory called Wolverine Shoe & Tanning Co. The company originally made boots from horse-hide but when horses became less available and overseas supplies of hides proved inferior the company were keen to find a suitable substitute. In 1942 the US Government formed the War Production Board (WPB) to supervise and regulate the production and sale of material essential to the World War II effort. Wolverine was assigned to make gloves for the troops and it was suggest that pig skin be used. The technical problems this presented were immense as separating all the flesh from the skin often damaged the hide. However the company persevered and were able to complete their orders. After the War demand for pigskin gloves dwindled and the company switched to using cowhides. Victor Krause who was now the Chairman of the company and convinced there was a better way to process pigskin. He was so dedicated to the project he resigned his chairmanship to his son Adolf, and dedicate himself entirely to solve the problem. It took him two years and a team of experts to design a device that separated the pigskin from the flesh without damage. A soft brushed suede was created by sanding the hide of pigskin but the tanned pigskin was too soft and flexible for traditional work boots and shoes. Instead, Victor Krause designed a pair of slipper like casual pigskin shoes with soft crepe rubber soles and presented them to Wolverine's board of directors.

At first this met with a look warm reception from the Board but they eventually decided to proceed and undertook some market research. Adolf Krause oversaw the design of a new range of pigskin shoes which were treated with Scotchgard (a water resistant chemical). This made the new shoes low maintenance and easy to clean. The shoes were to be called Lancers until the company’s sales manager, James Gaylord Muir, had a brain wave when he learned an old American custom wad to keep barking dogs quiet by feeding them corn fried biscuits called hush puppies. Cognisant that barking dogs was a colloquial expression for aching feet, he came up with the idea of 'Hush Puppies' as comfortable shoes that would ease sore feet. The term ‘hush puppy’ had been used in the US to describe a cornmeal biscuit from before the time of the Civil War. The staple died of poor people in the Southern States was salamanders which were called "water dogs" or "water puppies". Eaten deep-fried with cornmeal the repast was called hush puppies for fear of stigma. During the Civil War, snipers took to silencing barking watch guard dogs by feeding them fried cornmeal balls.

In 1957, Adolph Krause chose to go with Hush Puppies and the long eared basset hound logo trademark which an ad agency had put forward. Once registered, the company purchased the photograph of a soft-eyed basset hound called Cleo, and this went onto grace millions of shoes, boxes, ads and displays. Wolverine Shoe & Tanning Co exhibited the new shoe at the National Shoe Fair in Chicago in October 1957, and the trade reaction to the ‘Lancer’ (for that was what they were to be called), was both immediate and overwhelming. After a brief period of test marketing, the company launched a national advertising campaign in 1958. This was unprecedented in the shoe industry.

Suede penny loafers had been were fashionable with younger teenagers in the mid-fifites but with the introduction of Hush Puppies a new vogue began which appealed to an older demographic. In American the brand became synonimous with leisure and recreation and by 1963 one-in-ten adults in the United States owned a pair of Hush Puppies. Celebrities rushed to be photographed in their comfortable shoes, Warren Beatty, Perry Como and even the super cool, “Rat Pack” all enjoyed wearing pigskin shoes. Prince Phillip wore Hush Puppies on his visit to the United States in 1959. They were also picked up by the golfing fraternity, and Gerald Ford presented a pair of Hush Puppies golf shoes to President Dwight Eisenhower.

Pigskin footwear became the official dress footwear of the 1960, Summer and Winter Olympic games in Rome and Innsbruck and Hush Puppies for women were officially launched in 1961. The rapid international success led to the company's renaming itself as Wolverine World Wide in 1964 and the New York Stock Exchange.

The UK Mods adopted Hush Puppy scooter boots and so they became a real fashion statement with many of the UK acts that made up the “British Invasion” in the 60s wore Hush Puppies on tour. The shoes were hard wearing and scuff resistant making them ideal for stage wear and the crepe rubber sole offered useful protection from electrocution.

Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) can testify to this when in the mid sixties on stage in Sacramento, California, his guitar accidently touched a live mocrophone which would have electrocuted him had it not been for the crepe rubber soles of his Hush Puppies. During the summer of love, Hush Puppies even got a mention when Jimmy Buffetreleased a song "Come Monday" which includes the lyric "I've got my Hush Puppies on” on the album version The single version replaces the third line, "I've got my Hush Puppies on," with "I've got my hiking shoes on."

Demand for Hush Puppies continued through the 70s but were less popular with the younger people until the end of the decade when there was a resurgence in Mod fashion. The 1980s were a challenging decade as the public demand for athletic shoes grew. Half of the US's footwear manufacturers went bankrupt as the imports share of the U.S. market grew from 50 percent to 86 per cent. Hush Puppies decided their market lay more in practical footwear and produced the Body Shoe® using computer modelling, biomechanical function and state of the art shoe craft ushering in a new era of walking shoe. Emphasis on comfort the Body Shoe® had dual-density soles and inlay with isotactic properties. Later in 1990, an outsole of Bounce® technology was developed in collaboration with the Michigan State University Biomechanics Evaluation Laboratory to improve the walking shoe range.

By now Hush Puppies were so well know throughout the world Russian President Mikail Gorbachev invited the company to become the first American shoes to manufacture and sell in the Soviet Union. Production of most Hush Puppies and other Wolverine brands has now moved overseas to China, Vietnam and Brazil. But much of the design and marketing remains in Wolverine's Rockford headquarters. Although Hush Puppies continued to sell well by 1994, they had dropped market share and the company were poised to stop production of Hush Puppies but suddently there was a turn of fortune as fashionable types started to wear Hush Puppies to hip NY clubs. Not long after suede shoes made a comeback on the walkways when designer, John Bartlett recreated the signature classic Hush Puppy patterns in bright, optimistic colours for his 1995 NY Fashion Week show.Canadian designers picked up on the renaissance of the brand and began presenting the shoes on the runways across the country. Ron Leal, Jane Adams, Donna Karen, Simon Sebag and Nadya Toto were just a few of the designers who used the shoes in their shows. Hush Puppy sales picked up so much in the following year they outsold all previous records.

In the 1996 Academy Awards® nominees Nicholas Cage and Kevin Spacey tread the red carpet wearing their Hush Puppies and further more went to the lectern to receive their awards in their fashionable pigskin shoes.

Hush Puppies continued to innovate through technological advancement. From lightweight Zero G® styles to reverse action WaveReflex® technology to the environmentally friendly Harmony™ initiative, Hush Puppies world-renowned comfort continually evolves.

To celebrate Hush Puppies' golden anniversary, Wolverine World Wide Inc., held a year long celebration of activities including a Guest Designer Series, a shoe drive and a cross-country tour fundraiser for an animal shelter. For the launch celebrity stylists Phillip Bloch and Rachel Fanconi were tapped to design a line of shoes. The United Kingdom-based Fanconi created a women's line which ranged from Victorian-shaped boot to a modern Mary Jane. Prior to their release, Phillip Bloch’s line of Hush Puppies were sent out to clients who are fans, including Forest Whitaker and Jim Carrey. Other celebrities Hush Puppies fans included: Patricia Arquette, David Bowie, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Sharon Stone, Jodi Foster, Chris Isaac, Matt Leblanc, Mathew Perry, Tom Hanks, and Sylvester Stallone. Even Diana, Princess of Wales had a special collection of Hush Puppie shoes. When Victor Krause was buried he was wearing lime green Hush Puppies.

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