Sunday, June 04, 2006

MY CAMPERS

Most definitely, amongst your worldly possessions there's at least one item that seems so quirky only you can appreciate its existence, or as a sage would say, it speaks only to you.

For me, it’s a pair of Camper shoes. I love them, although they make me look like I just walked out of some bowling alley without returning the borrowed shoes.

The first time I ever saw a pair was about four years ago when my nephew came back from Milan sporting a pair. I immediately liked them and assumed they were made in Italy. But much to my surprise, I was told they are a product of the island of Majorca, about 150 miles from Barcelona.

That following spring, upscale New York stores such as Barneys and Bloomingdale’s started carrying them. But they came with a steep price, especially for casual shoes — ranging from as much as 150 to 200 dollars a pair. Yet, upon closer inspection, one can appreciate the superb quality of the leather and the excellent workmanship involved, which justify their price tags.

To save a few bucks, my nephew promised to get me a pair when he went back to Europe that following autumn. However, when I went to Manila before then, I was thrilled to have discovered a Camper shoe store in Robinson’s Malate. They had quite a selection of styles marked down at 40 percent off their regular prices so, I immediately grabbed a pair.

In Manila, I would at times wear my Campers when playing badminton, although they're a tad heavier than gum-soled badminton shoes. However, they’re perfect for hardwood floor courts like those at Peregrine’s (located in the university belt area). But I must admit they're not nearly as comfortable as those made with Vibram soles usually found in Nike and Merrell sneakers.

If it is indeed true that shoes reveal something about the man wearing them — besides being mistaken as a bowling shoe bandit — my pair of Campers might hint my sometimes non-conformist nature — a major liability, especially in Manila’s clannish culture (wherein the finer styling of Tod, Ferragamo and Gucci are highly favored).

But much to my delight, the other day, I came across an article about the history of this shoemaker, which after reading it, made me appreciate even more so the only pair I own. Moreover, I no longer feel such a weird loner whenever I put on these quirky shoes.

The article goes on t say that the current owner of Camper, Lorenzo Fluxá, is a fourth-generation shoemaker and comes from a long line of shoe innovators. Supposedly, his grandfather hauled from England some machinery that modernized the family's shoe factory. When it was his turn to take over the family shoe business, Lorenzo found that he liked the shoe business, but was bored stiff by the company's usual product line.

Meanwhile, his urbane friends from mainland Spain kept asking him where he bought his slip-ons, which are basically espadrille-style footwear fashioned after old peasant shoes (in which islanders would cobble together from cast-off canvas and recycled rubber). Sensing an opportunity, he asked his father to help him launch his own line of casual shoes.

Although they would be a far cry from the family's established brand of dress shoes, Lottuse, Lorenzo's initial production of his new line of casual shoes went ahead; guided, though reluctantly, by his father. Consequently, their longtime loyal retailers were resistant; perplexed as how to exactly sell this new line of shoes designed after the local farmer shoes. Incidentally, Camper means peasant in Catalan.

Nonetheless, when the craze for blue jeans and slinky casual clothing hit the now dictator-less Spain, Lorenzo once again knocked on their doors and this time, successfully convinced those retailers to carry Campers. Sales instantaneously took off.


The design team at Camper would argue that the outside detailing of their shoes is not so important since they tend to get scuffed up anyway. They think that wearing them should feel like having a funny conversation with one’s self. It's a notion reflected in the soles of the shoes, which Lorenzo believes to be the soul of the shoes. Try saying that to Manolo.

In fact, they’ve even gone so far as to register many of their soles as trademarks, which they see as investments for themselves. Previous productions even had poems or messages stamped on the bottom (Hispanic causing panic, for example). A company that refuses to take itself seriously, its designers, in certain styles, will purposely not match the right with the left shoe. Surely, this was Camper’s way of demonstrating its wit. Now, I wonder if one of those stamped messages was borrowed from Chevy Chase’s - ‘70s Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment - headline: “General Francisco Franco is still seriously dead!”

As if to underscore its culture of weirdness, Camper employees were known to count the number of Camper customers on the island by examining footprints on the beaches of Majorca. The company also boasts that some of their employees came from various parts of the world. Shubhankar Ray, moved to Majorca from London last year with his wife and small child to work at Camper. This year's design interns came from Japan and Scandinavia, among other places. Then there's Kim Fabio, who grew up in the Caribbean and spent 10 years at Converse before moving to Majorca last year. If not by the weirdness, these people were definitely attracted by Camper’s old-economy attitude of unwillingness to compromise, as well as by its product line that reflects a strong sense of itself and rich in local character.

For more than a decade now, this peculiar footwear company has been quietly raking in more sales in its native Spain than any other casual-shoe brand. Now the company is going global, adding new stores in London, Milan, New York, Paris, and Taiwan. This explains a store in Manila.

Last year, more than 3 million pairs of shoes were sold, which brought in about $120 million in revenues. The industry's leading trade publication, Footwear News, named Camper "fashion brand of the year," and all kinds of celebrities — from Woody Allen to Rosie O'Donnell to Robert Redford to Bruce Willis — were soon seen kicking around in these unique footwear. Hence, Camper has become globally chic.

Although neither the largest shoe company in the world nor the most visible, it is arguably the most eccentric and, for the moment at least, the hottest shoe company on Earth.

I wish Camper a long existence. Way back during the '70s, a Canadian shoe company, Roots, conveyed the same sort of weirdness with their sandals called Earth shoes. I had a pair, but never got used to walking with shoes whose back part (heels) were lower than the toe part. I didn't know whether I was going forward or backward. I eventually gave them away, because I was already confused enough during that era and had no need for anything else that would only further discombobulate me.

Read the complete article, The Shoes from Spain by Ron Lieber.

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posted by Señor Enrique at 7:36 AM


13 Comments:

Blogger vina said...

hehe, my boyfriend has long wanted to own a pair of campers. kaya lang, they can still be quite expensive, even on sale!

June 04, 2006 9:38 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Please tell your boyfriend, Vina, to put aside a couple of bucks every payday -- and before he knows it, voila! He's a happy Camper owner.

He really ought to get a pair, especially when he has been longing for them!

BTW, my philosophy when it comes to footwear is now this: Every woman should at least own a pair of Manolo Blahnik while the guys a pair of Camper. This is to celebrate our respective special and sometimes peculiar personality.

June 04, 2006 11:18 PM  

Blogger j said...

I agree with a woman having at least a pair of MBlahniks. My hubby though is content with having a huge shoe rack with all his Nike basketball shoes in it. im still finishing a post re: this :)

June 05, 2006 4:55 PM  

Blogger BW said...

A new technique pioneered by shoe company New Balance calls for the customer to dip his bare feet into water and then step on to a blank paper to check the foot contour. This is where you can verify is the person is flat footed, normal or what not so that the correct shoe can be prescribed. Pretty cool indeed.

June 05, 2006 9:36 PM  

Blogger NeiLDC said...

Another Spain Pride, yeah Catalan from the province of Catalonia, where Barcelona is located. Islas de Palma De Mallorca, an island near by Ibiza as well is a great for famous Hollywood celebrity and a vacation spot for the Royal Palace. Mallorca is known to the beaches as well in the mediterrean sea. it was good to hear camper was one of the best shoes as well. Ill be in Mallorca in Summer. stay tuned for the pics. anyway when are you visiting spain?

June 07, 2006 4:12 AM  

Anonymous Major Tom said...

Such a nice looking pair of shoes. It look sturdy enough to get into any action.

Maybe, Camper is the next big thing in shoe products just like K-Swiss before, where it became popular by way of mouth mostly. Now many of such are faked versions and you couldn't tell the real one from the imitation. I hope it won't happen to Camper.

June 07, 2006 5:51 PM  

Blogger vina said...

or better yet, señor eric, i'll put aside a couple of bucks every pay day - and before i know it, viola! he's a happy Campers owner!

i know he really wants a pair of those, but i'm not sure if i could get his shoe size correct since those shoes do look pretty weird to me.

June 08, 2006 4:41 PM  

Anonymous bing said...

is it indeed true that shoes reveal something about the man wearing them? wonder how a woman dress reveals something also about her..

June 08, 2006 10:12 PM  

Blogger Corsarius said...

those are neat shoes, señor. now i'm beginning to think i've been into basketball shoes for too long now! ;)

btw, i thought that maybe you'd like to read my independence day entry at crimson crux, if you have the time. there, i share the belief of a burmese priest in the philippines. if a foreigner can believe in us, why can't we?

thanks, señor enrique.

June 12, 2006 4:25 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Firstly, sorry for my being incommunicado all this time; HP main office borrowed my laptop to fully investigate the issues I complained about.

Anyway...


to JAFRAM:

I will most definitely check out your post about your hubby's extensive Nike collection. Darn, he ought to visit the NIKE STORE in nyc. He'll get a kick out of exploring the four or five floors of nothing but Nike stuff in one building.


to BW:

I like New Balance's idea of shoe fitting. I'm sure one will get the perfect fit, indeed. For athletic footwear, as a rule of thumb, I get one, or one and half size bigger for a more comfortable fit.


to NEIL,DC:

Oh, wow! You'll be in Mallorca this summer? Good for you. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time. From what I hear, a lot of foreigners have been buying vacation homes over there. I wonder how much the Camper shoes are over there?


to MAJOR TOM:

K-Swiss shoes are more elegantly styled and have always favored its tennis shoes for many years and loved them!


to VINA:

That would be really nice of you and I'm sure your bf will love you even more for that!


to BING:

I've a feeling that the dress, in fact, reveals a lot about a woman as well, although only for that moment.


to CORSARIUS:

I just passed by a Nike store at the mall and saw the latest line of basketball shoes -- incredible, as always!

June 16, 2006 9:03 AM  

Blogger BW said...

good luck on your laptop bro. HP better show the world what they are made of. If there's 2 companies you would respect in the field of computers, it would be IBM and HP.

June 16, 2006 10:11 PM  

Blogger grumpyurbanslacker said...

the funny thing is i thought all along that Camper was an American brand, similar to Skechers, etc. Yun pala hindi.

And my bro says, its not pronounced as "camper" (i.e. someone who goes camping, but as "Cam-PERR" (i.e. 2nd sylable is pronounced with a deeper tone of voice). Haha.

January 29, 2008 9:12 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I didn't know that, Gus. But then again, that would sound more like someone with a Spanish background would pronounce it.

Mikhail Baryshnikov had a full page photo in Vanity Fair wearing a pair of Camper high tops.

January 30, 2008 8:09 AM  

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