Birkenstock is stepping into Venice in a big way. The German brand known for its strappy, contoured-footbed sandals has picked a pedestrian-heavy stretch of Abbot Kinney Boulevard as the location of its second company-owned stand-alone store in the U.S. (The first bowed in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in October 2018.)
The 1,200-square-foot, light-filled space has a distinct beach bungalow vibe, a small courtyard in the back and an interior appointed in many of the same materials that have made the company’s footwear a hippie staple: tables hewn from thick slabs of wood, shelves accented in gray felt, stools and benches upholstered in leather, and whole walls clad in rough-textured cork. Adding to the beach vibe is a custom-made cork surfboard imprinted with Birkenstock’s foot-and-cross logo, which hangs from the rafters. Eagle-eyed shoppers might also notice the logo emblazoned on a porthole-shaped window near the roof peak.
If all those details make the new store seem like a browsable, shoppable version of a Birkenstock, that’s exactly the point, says David Kahan, chief executive officer of Birkenstock Americas.
“The world does not need just another shoe store, and we have not opened just another shoe store. We have created a total emotional brand-immersion experience for the Birkenstock brand,” Kahan said, noting that the Venice neighborhood had been on his retail radar for a long time.
“I’ve been coming here for many years,” he said. “I used to fly into LAX and rent a car, and [Venice] was always my first stop. By the time it was 11:30 [a.m.], I’d be sitting at Gjelina having a kale salad and eating a pizza. To me, this is a place with a discerning customer that totally gets the Birkenstock vibe, so we started looking. It took us three years to find the right place and another year to do the renovation, but it just made sense here. ... Just like we wouldn’t open on Madison Avenue but SoHo made sense, we wouldn’t open on Rodeo Drive but Abbot Kinney made sense.”
The store, which officially opens its doors Aug. 1 — it has been in soft-opening mode since last week — will carry the brand’s full range of men’s, women’s and children’s boots, shoes and sandals as well as a selection of its limited-edition designer collaborations (Valentino and Rick Owens among them) and other Birkenstock-branded accessories, including socks, bags and belts. And, until later this year, it’s the only place to get your hands on the company’s latest brand extension — a range of skin-care products that includes lip balms, hand creams and moisturizers, at retail prices from $25 to $100.
At first blush, under-eye creams, moisturizing masks and the like might seem like a disconnect for a footwear brand but for two things. First is that the company, which dates back to 1774, has deep roots in the health and wellness space. Second is that, like the foot-cradling sandals with which it made its name, the Birkenstock Natural Skin Care line relies heavily on cork.
Specifically, the products contain an extract of the cork oak called suberin, which the company touts as helping moisturize, stimulate cell renewal and reduce redness. (To hammer the cork connection home, most of the product packaging is accented with the material.) Until the line expands to Birkenstock’s SoHo store and website in October and then Nordstrom in January, the cork-lined display case in the back of the new space will be the only place in the U.S. to buy it. The skin-care line launched in Europe last year.
As a nod to its new neighborhood, the back courtyard features the work of SoCal artists: a wall-sized mural by Andy Davis and two Birkenstock-shaped sculptures crafted by Inga Guzyte from recycled skate decks. As part of the store’s opening celebration, there’s also a temporary installation by local photographer and director Ace Norton that includes a short film and still images focusing on the folks in the community — and their feet. (Yes, you read that right.) In addition, 10% of the store’s opening-week sales has been pledged to local nonprofit Venice Arts.
Birkenstock Venice, 1208 Abbot Kinney Blvd., open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, (310) 310-8448