The Skinny on the New "Skins" Shoes

I recently tried out a pair of the new Skins shoes, what promise to be chic and inventive products. They’ve gotten a lot of advance raves in design publications such as I.D. and Metropolis, as well as on green-lifestyle blogs such as Treehugger. They’re now available online, via Sportie L.A. and are scheduled to hit stores later this month. And don’t forget this slick viral marketing video:

I have to admit, I was really looking forward to seeing and wearing these shoes, which have a super cool concept: they consist of an ergonomic, sturdy inner support system that can be taken out of a leather or suede shell. The “bone,” or the plastic supports (which cost about $50) can be placed in a variety of buttery “skins” – the shells (which range from $125-300). Get it? The idea is to have one pair of the theoretically comfy inner structures that can be mixed and matched with various outer cases. So the amount of packaging, storage space, and shipping costs of the shoes can be cut down. That’s good, eco-friendly news for both the maker (Skins Footwear) and consumers alike – even if the “skins” are a bit on the pricey side.

But I also have to admit I was underwhelmed by the actual shoes. I showed them to some co-workers, who were underwhelmed, too. Was it because of all the pre-launch hype? After all, the company that created the Skins line has been smart to host a Web site with sexy photography and feature the shoes at hip museum exhibitions and design fairs, not to mention circulate the intriguing video on YouTube, well before their release.

So why were we underwhelmed? Although they were designed by a team that includes the hot designer Dror Benshetrit– known for his elegant, flat-folding furniture, and the latest designer to be signed by Culture & Commerce, a design agency whose clients include Philippe Starck and chef Wolfgang Puck — the Skins shoes seemed like, well, regular old shoes. The pair we tried, sneakerish flats in pink suede and white leather, were luxuriously soft, but no more collapsible than, say, those ubiquitous Tory Burch slipper-like shoes that trendy women have been sporting for the last couple of seasons. And the “bone” insert didn’t feel much different from an extremely stiff insole, although indeed sleekly and gorgeously designed. In fact, it seemed like the “skin” could be worn without it (like the slinky Tory Burch flats). Maybe we were expecting too much? I can’t help but wonder, could the marketing and early buzz around this start-up shoe company be so good as to eclipse the product itself?

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