Hush Puppies Arrive in the Soviet Union

“One of the most established names in U.S. fashion is about to bet $2 million in advertising that Russian consumers are eager to own a pair of casual shoes.
Hush Puppies, the pigskin suede loafers and lace-ups your parents used to wear, have enjoyed a chic rebirth in the U.S. in recent years. Now Wolverine World Wide, the company that markets Hush Puppies, is introducing the brightly colored shoes to Russia as affordable, fun and durable footwear.
‘Right now in Russia you have a dress product — a high-fashion, high-heeled shiny black shoe — and a sports product,’ said Alan Sutherland, managing director of Wolverine in Moscow. ‘There’s literally nothing in the middle for people who want a casual shoe.’
The lack of casual leather shoes reflects the overall lack of casual clothing available in the Russian market, Sutherland added. But as urban dwellers in particular become more affluent, the demand for stylish but casual clothing will grow, he said.
‘Casual shoes are a typical development of spending power and middle class values,’ Sutherland said.
That sentiment may be more American than European, and certainly, stylish Muscovites don’t seem ready to trade their skinny black trousers for a pair of baggy khakis anytime soon. Still, the number of more affordably-priced clothing stores appears to be growing as consumers demand more variety in style and price.
The French retailer Kooka? and Moscow veteran Bennetton late last year opened new stores on Novy Arbat, while the U.S. fashion brand Guess in recent months set up shop on Novokuznetskaya. British clothier NeXt, meanwhile, has plastered the town with billboards to celebrate the opening of its new outlet in the Manezh shopping mall.
Clothing at such stores is still far too expensive for many shoppers. But prices at Kooka? and NeXt are a considerable step down from those at the high-fashion Gucci and Versace boutiques that seem to dominate Moscow’s shopping scene.
‘For less than $100 it is hard to buy nice things,’ said Maria Alkorta, beauty editor at fashion magazine Marie Claire. ‘If you go to the [outdoor] market, then maybe. But many people don’t like to go there.’
‘What I really want is for there to be more big stores where you can buy good pants, sweaters and shoes that you can wear everyday,’ Alkorta said…
Hush Puppies in Russia will sell for $65 to $120, depending on the style. That puts the shoes in the same price category as those of the German Salamander brand and Denmark’s Ecco, both of which are big sellers in Russia.
In a country where consumers often face counterfeit fashions and shoddy products, Hush Puppies will use in-store materials to let shoppers know the shoes are water-proof, scratch-proof and stain resistant, Sutherland said.”

Jeanne Whalen, The Moscow Times, March 3, 1988.

Photograph: Mike Gonzalez, TheCoffee