Shoes Thrown at Bush Launch Latest Political Fashion Trend

December 24, 2008 11:35 AM
by Anne Szustek
The now-infamous shoes hurled at President Bush by an Iraqi journalist have put their Turkish manufacturer into the forefront of Middle Eastern fashion. It’s not the first trend launched by politics.

Turkish-Made Shoe Becomes International Must-Have

Baydan Shoe Company, an Istanbul-based shoe manufacturer, is getting a leg up thanks to some unpaid product placement. According to Ramazan Baydan, the brand’s chief cobbler, Iraqi journalist Muntazar Al-Zaidi was wearing one of Baydan’s own black leather oxfords when he took off his shoes and threw them at President George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad last Sunday.

There’s little proof of the shoes’ provenance, as the offending footwear has since been detonated by Secret Service investigators. And in fact, shoe manufacturers around the world have also professed to be the label of the otherwise non-descript shoe. But Baydan remains resolute that shoe is his Ducati Model 271, now renamed “The Bush Shoe.”

“We have been producing that specific style, which I personally designed, for 10 years, so I couldn’t have missed it, no way,” Baydan told The New York Times. “As a shoemaker, you understand.” He also says that the shoes, which weigh only 10 ounces, flew surprisingly well when thrown toward the president’s head.

In Turkey and the Middle East, flinging one’s shoe is considered a deep insult. It is also a tactic often employed by women looking to defend their honor against lascivious men. Al-Zaidi’s act landed him in an Iraqi prison, but had another effect on Baydan Shoe Company, however.

Whether to agree with the shoe-thrower’s political statement or to capitalize on the attention, shoppers around the world have been buying the Bush Shoe faster than Baydan can make them. His company has taken on another 100 workers to handle orders for 300,000 pairs of shoes—more than four times the typical annual demand for the shoe, which has been on the market since 1999. An American company has ordered 18,000 units, and a U.K. distributor has come to Baydan with a proposal to serve as the Turkish shoe manufacturer’s representative. Four companies are vying for distribution rights in Iraq, where the shoe has some 120,000 pending orders.
A pair of the shoes retails for about $40 in Turkey, a bargain in an emerging-market nation where an 18 percent value-added tax on top of any import taxes for shoes made outside the country often puts footwear out of financial reach.

The Bush Shoe is also being featured on 5,000 advertising posters with the phrase “Goodbye Bush, Welcome Democracy” in Arabic, English and Turkish are being printed and sent off to the region.

As Baydan General Manager Serkan Türk told The New York Times, in Turkey’s footwear segment at least, “Mr. Bush served some good purpose to the economy before he left.”

Background: Political climate colors fashion

Punditry during the 2008 presidential election blurred the line between podium and catwalk. GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s wardrobe—both her Alaska apparel and her designer threads purchased at the Minneapolis Neiman Marcus on the Republican Party’s bill, drew both derision and support.

Even those who favor blue over red on Election Day may have gone for Palin-inspired pieces, however. Naughty Monkey, the mid-priced shoe brand favored by 20-somethings including Paris Hilton, reported a surge in sales after Palin wore the company’s shoes during the Republican National Convention. Wigs styled like Palin’s trademark updo also took off, ranging in price from the light brown $45 “Bargain Sarah Palin” model to the $695 all-natural human hair version sold by Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Georgie Wigs, which caters to the neighborhood’s Orthodox Jewish community.

“It’s a very conservative yet fashion-forward look,” Georgie Wigs Vice President Shlomo Klein told the Associated Press. “It can be worn down, it can be worn up. There are a lot of styling options. The bun higher, the bun lower.”

Soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama also sparked buying trends. The $148 dress from mall store chain White House/Black Market she wore for an appearance on talk show “The View” reportedly sold out at some locations after the show. Obama also received accolades for her apparently equal ease at carrying off pieces from discount Swedish apparel retailer H&M as with pieces crafted by designers such as Narciso Rodriguez, who did the red-and-black dress Obama wore for her husband’s Election Night victory speech.

Before the Obamas have even pulled up stakes from Windy City to White House, fashion writers have already likened Michelle Obama to another First Lady held as a paragon of style: Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. The site Mrs. O, an obvious paean to her similarly last-initialed fashion plate, is dedicated to Mrs. Obama’s fashion sense.

The Obamas have also lent fashion credibility to their hometown, with Chicago-based labels Maria Pinto and Hart Schaffner Marx getting wear time by the First Couple-elect.

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