FiveFingers 'Casual Shoes'

By STEPHEN REGENOLD
In a more cynical time, the new shoes debuted last week from Vibram would have been the butt of a very funny joke. They would have made for a good final touch with a clown costume. Indeed, take a close look. These are casual brown lace-up shoes and leather boots. . . with articulated toes!

Today, in an era where barefoot-style running is in vogue and Vibram FiveFingers shoes are a near religion for some, the company can get away with making dressy shoes with toes. These are FiveFingers for wearing to the office. Says Tony Post, the company’s CEO, “Our new casual footwear introductions [offer] dedicated consumers more alternatives for all aspects of their daily lives.”

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FiveFingers’ Cervinia model, a “cold-weather lifestyle boot”

In 2007, Time magazine named Vibram FiveFingers one of the best inventions of the year. Then the barefoot-running craze took off. Vibram’s “shoes with toes” became a mega-trend, and Mr. Post — who pushed me personally in a meeting years ago to look seriously at FiveFingers for running — has a place now in the pantheon of people who forever changed the running world.

I use FiveFingers on occasion to train and strengthen my legs and feet. Though I am not an evangelizer like some, I know the value — and have seen the measureable results — of Vibram’s minimalist approach.

But the casual line, I think, has gone too far. The new styles for 2011, which come in men’s models and a boot for women, are just strange. They cost up to $160 per pair. Maybe some people are so in love with their VFFs that they need to wear them all day, not just while working out. I am a fan, as I said, but am no where near that committed.

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TrekLS “comfort shoe”

But Vibram cites it is simply “answering overwhelming demand for casual models.” So be it. Sell more shoes. That’s the point, I realize. Now, after my editorial, here are some details on the new line. . . .

The men’s TrekLS model is a $140 “comfort shoe” made with (for further mystification!) distressed kangaroo leather. You lace them up and tie them with a bow. The men’s Bormio is an ankle-high boot also made of kangaroo leather. They have a zipper in lieu of laces to seal up on the side. These casual kangaroo zip boots — with articulated toes, of course! — cost $160.

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FiveFingers Bormio zip boot (made with kangaroo leather)

For women, the $140 Cervinia is a “cold-weather lifestyle boot.” It has a calf-high upper and a treaded rubber sole. There’s a 5.5mm foam midsole to add cushioning and warmth.

Finally, the new Speed model has a somewhat retro running-shoe look, with white, black or blue mesh and a contrasting tongue. They lace up and come in men’s and women’s models for $100 a pair.

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FiveFingers Speed model

The new VFFs are not made for serious running. As stated, they are “lifestyle” shoes and designed for everyday use. Wear them grocery shopping or to pick up your kids at school. Ask your boss at work if they fit into the dress code. I am betting they’ll pass the inspection by H.R. If nothing else, these VFFs are sure to get you a ton of attention around the water cooler, no doubt.

—Gear Junkie’s recent barefoot coverage includes stories on Vibram FiveFingers “foot gloves,” Kigo Minimalist Footwear, the $175 Newton shoes, Merrell’s barefoot-type shoe, “spy photos” of New Balance’s to-be-released barefoot shoes, and a controversy involving Inc. Magazine and a marathon Gear Junkie ran in barefoot-style shoes in 2007.

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