Most big new releases from mass-market brands feel weirdly formulaic. X brand announces a few products and, without even seeing it, you know exactly what to expect. Jordan and a generational basketball sneaker; Timberland and burly, waterproof boots; Converse and a new colorway of the Chuck Taylor; and so on and so forth. But Sperry just broke the mold with their latest footwear
From the American sailing brand, you'd expect boat shoes and maybe duck boots — something water-friendly for sure. Instead, they've linked with singer, actor, producer and TV personality — oh, not to mention EGOT winner — John Legend, and his stylist David Thomas, for a suite of simpler footwear. Nothing groundbreaking; just good-looking, well-made slip-ons, sneakers, and boots.
Legend's been a longtime fan of the brand, as well as an official ambassador for a little over a year. He's curated special collections before, like the John Legend Edit, but these new shoes represent his first original designs.
"We wanted to include elements of historical Sperry items, but marry that with my own sensibilities and personal style. [Sperry] had never done a high boot like this before, and we — Dave Thomas and I — thought it'd be cool," Legend tells us. "There are some elements that are familiar: familiar to me from other boots I've worn, but there are some loafer elements to it, too. Some of the shapes down near the bottom are reminiscent of a Sperry loafer in some ways, but with the high boot and the heavy sole."
"We collaborated in the right way, starting with a blank slate and then capturing John’s spirit," Sperry's VP of Product and Design, Sean McDowell, says. "The results have pushed the brand to a sophisticated and premium level."
The co-designed collection comprises a Top-Sider-turned-slip-on called the Plushwave Boat Shoe; a boat-shoe-meets-mid-height-sneaker, the Commodore; and our favorite, the hand-sewn, full-grain leather Vibram Lug Tall Boots. They're a stark departure from the flat-footed dock loafers most of us know the brand for. The Tall Boots are interesting, and that's more than can be said for a lot of Sperry's shoes as of late. The magic's there, hidden in the history of it all, but it takes an outsider's sense of direction to find it and resurface it in the right way. See Noah and Sperry's Croc Embossed Captain's Oxford, Rowing Blazers' Sperry Cloud collab, or the Premium CVOs by Beams Plus — and, of course, Legend's booting debut. Collaboration, it seems, sparks innovation rather than repetitive interpolations of color or texture.
"Digging into the Sperry archive and reimagining their boat shoe; this is the first time this has happened with a collaboration and is something we are very proud of," Thomas says. The process was trial-and-error, he adds, all about "taking their product apart and piecing it back together, adding and taking away."
At this new luxury level, consumers get full-grain leather uppers, an obvious Vibram lug sole, a lambskin liner, waxed laces, laser-cut patterns meant to replicate the 360-degree laces on the Top-Sider and a fully functional medial zipper for easy removal. Plus, you can pick from a natural brown pair with a white outsole or a tonal black pair with a contrasting cream liner.
"A lot of the Sperry stuff in the past has been kind of leisurely and loungey, but this [boot] gives you the sense that you can go walk around the streets of Manhattan or maybe London or wherever with it. And that's new territory for Sperry," Legend says. "But I think the audience knows when it feels forced or when it feels like it's not a good fit. I think they'll see that this makes perfect sense."