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14-06-2005
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The Birkenstock Controversy
War of the sandals

She helped transform her husband's family's sandals from hiker geek to boho chic. But when Susanne Birkenstock got divorced and launched her own rival shoe range, still using her married name, a bitter feud erupted. She talks to Luke Harding

Tuesday June 14, 2005
The Guardian

It is a lovely spot. Ever since she broke up with her husband Christian, Susanne Birkenstock has lived in a pleasant art nouveau villa overlooking the Rhine, in the west German town of Bad Honnef. There is only one problem. Her estranged father-in-law Karl still lives next door. "There he is!" Birkenstock's aide exclaims, as a man with snow-white hair wanders into the neighbouring garden.

To say that Karl Birkenstock, the patriarchal head of the Birkenstock sandal family, and Susanne, his glamorous ex-daughter-in-law, don't get on would be something of an understatement. "It really has been a war," she says, as barges plough along the Rhine at the bottom of her garden. "I can't understand why they behave like this. They just keep on fighting me. But they do it under the table." (Karl, meanwhile, has disappeared behind the hedge.)

The battle of the Birkenstocks began last year. Susanne's 16-year marriage to Christian, one of three brothers now running the German sandal dynasty, collapsed in 2003. A year later, she launched a rival sandal collection called Beautystep, and founded her own firm, S/B International. Although her sandals were not called Birkenstocks as such, her publicity included the words "Designed by Susanne Birkenstock". The Birkenstocks weren't amused. Last December, they threatened her with legal action, accusing her of plagiarism and "exploiting" the family name. A summit between both sides failed to resolve the dispute. In January, the Birkenstocks went to court, arguing that Susanne had "sponged" off their brand name. Inevitably, the case in Cologne caused a sensation in Germany.


"She's simply trying to exploit the good name that Birkenstock has built up across the world in 17 different countries. It's not on," says the firm's spokesman Bernd Hillen. "There are lots of people in Germany called Birkenstock. In fact, there is a well-known lawyer in Cologne with the same name. But they can't all go around bringing sandals on the market."

The dispute escalated quickly. In January the Birkenstocks sent a letter to retailers, newspapers and leading German politicians claiming that Susanne had "spread lies for marketing purposes". The following month, a judge came up with a compromise: Frau Birkenstock could still use her name, provided it was small, and at a suitable distance from her main logo, Beautystep. The Birkenstocks appeared to agree. Two weeks ago, however, the firm's lawyers fired off another angry letter after Susanne appeared on a German home-shopping channel extolling the virtues of her (really rather expensive) shoes. In earlier ads she had rather archly declared: "I stand personally by my name."

"We tried to find a solution. But it didn't work," she now says. "Karl Birkenstock used to be my idol. But not any more. I phoned him up and told him, 'This is crazy. Are you mad?' He told me: 'It isn't that bad. You shouldn't behave like this.' It's funny in a way. But it's also quite sad."

The Birkenstocks are now part of shoemaking legend. The business began more than two centuries ago in the small German village of Langenberg, when Johann Adam Birkenstock tried his hand at cobbling. In 1896 his grandson Konrad opened two specialist footwear shoeshops in Frankfurt and started to produce contoured insoles, and later, flexible arches. In 1964, the firm made its first sandal. Since then the design has expanded to include slip-ons, loafers and hiking boots. Traditionally produced in black and brown, Birkenstocks were long synonymous with eco-conscious hikers, but in recent years the sandals have become painfully trendy, with hosts of celebrities sporting them and long queues forming outside the firm's Covent Garden store in London.

Having built up a global empire, Karl handed over control of the business to his three sons Christian, Stephan and Alex in 2002. But it is the blonde, impeccably dressed and PR-savvy Susanne who has been credited with transforming the company's frumpy image. She met Christian at a pool cafe when they were teenagers growing up in Bad Honnef, an idyllic town just south of Germany's dinky former capital, Bonn. "At the time I knew nothing about the Birkenstock family," she says. At 16, they started going out together and married at 18. Susanne then plunged herself into the family business, repairing broken shoes and showing off Birkenstock sandals at glitzy evening functions. But later, their marriage got into difficulties.

Asked what went wrong, Susanne, 34, says that the couple had different priorities, with Christian, the wealthy heir, frequently away from home. He now lives in Linz, just down the road from Bad Honnef, in an 11th-century Rhineside castle with lots of towers. Speaking from Spain, Christian told the Guardian that he didn't bear a grudge against his ex-wife. "We all wish her well," he said. "Beautystep is a nice name; I hope she sells lots of her product. The only problem is that she has to leave the name Birkenstock off her shoes. People were telephoning our stores and saying: 'Oh, you've brought out a new range of sandals.' But we hadn't - she had. That's why we had to send letters to the shops explaining that they weren't Birkenstocks. Her shoes are completely different. They are more like trainers."

But isn't she entitled to use her own name? "We Birkenstocks are a big family. There are a lot of us. But they can't all go around producing shoes, in the same way that people called Porsche or Mercedes can't all go out and make cars."

Susanne, however, remains undeterred. "I have a goal. I want to reach it. Nothing can stop me," she says.

She doesn't have to go far to be reminded of her former relatives, now competitors. After their split, Christian gave Susanne her present house, where Christian's grandparents used to live. Her father-in-law is still next door, while the Birkenstock workshop is in the front garden. Round the corner is the Birkenstock showroom.

So far, Susanne's business has gone well. In the first three months after launching Beautystep, she sold 35,000 pairs of sandals to women in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This summer she intends to launch a new high-heeled range in London. Men's sandals and trainers will follow next year. According to Susanne, her shoes have a specially contoured shape that improves posture and circulation and even reduces cellulite, but they aren't cheap; regular sandals cost €89-€119 (£60-£80), while the new high-heeled range will retail at €300-350 (£200-£235) a pair. (Although the Birkenstock company refuses to release figures, it is believed to have made €500m last year.) What the Birkenstocks think of their errant ex-daughter-in-law isn't entirely clear. "They always wish me well and say that they hope my products are a success. But I fear they are being cynical." She still occasionally bumps into members of her ex-family on her morning walk along the willow- and poplar-lined Rhine, and claims to be in contact with her mother-in-law. The Birkenstock lawyers, meanwhile, have declared the feud over. But they also say they will get back in touch again if they spot the name "Birkenstock" anywhere near her elegant shoes. The sandal war, it seems, is not dead yet.




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14-06-2005
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that seems a bit below the belt i mean if her ex hubbys offended her then fair enough but its not jsut him that suffers its his whole family

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14-06-2005
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interesting... and kinda funny

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14-06-2005
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I wish my last name was Birkenstock.

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14-06-2005
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^ ha ha ha!

Ya, its funny... but below the belt IMO...

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14-06-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cloud9
interesting... and kinda funny
Yeah it is kinda funny! living right next door to your EX-father in law and then living in the house your ex-hubby's grandparents used to live in??? Some people like drama.

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14-06-2005
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thanks kit...
what an interesting turn of events...

wonder what these 'beautysteps' even look like...

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14-06-2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey
thanks kit...
what an interesting turn of events...

wonder what these 'beautysteps' even look like...
There was a pic with the article , but too fady to scan .

Short answer to your question - absolutely NOTHING SPECIAL .
, except they were mid heeled and totally leopard print .

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14-06-2005
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leopard?!!?!.......



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14-06-2005
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here's the leopard one!!!:p

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14-06-2005
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i posted in there...

i let them know that the original number andy brought up was 25 and the admins bumped it up to 35...and that was that for now...

i see no reason not to post a list of the members invited...
anyone have any thoughts on that?...

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14-06-2005
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^I don't get why this post is in this thread. Seems like a post intended for the Admins and Mods forum.

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14-06-2005
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Beautystep is the worst name ever

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16-06-2005
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They look a lot like Birkenstocks.

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so- 10 yrs later and all the brothers have taken a back seat and are letting other people run the company...

found an interesting article...
excerpt-
Quote:
Last year, nearly twenty million pairs of Birkenstocks were sold. The Furkenstocks fashion moment was unsought, Reichert told me, and something of a distraction. “We are not calculating what the next fashion trend is,” he said. “To be honest, it will be better to be not so much in fashion right now.” It had been hard to keep up with demand for certain styles, like the Arizona in white leather with a white sole. It was preferable to satisfy gently rising demand. Reichert said, “We are O.K. with having our critical mass out there, and working with them, and not having millions on top just rush in and rush out one day, because for the company it is heavy to handle this.”
here's the whole thing...
it's long but of some interest...
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...4b86-416937393

newyorker

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