When I caught wind that John Fluevog was opening a flagship store in Portland (1224 SW Stark), I have to admit I was under-whelmed. Like many people, I first became aware of the brand in the '90s—specifically with the "Angel boot," a less-mean Doc Martens alternative festooned with art deco-inspired swirl stitching. Popularized by several icons of the grunge era, when pop culture moved on most everyone else did too, though Fluevogs remained a recognizable trapping of slightly out-of-touch countercultural enthusiasts and Burning Man attendees. The latter is the scene I'd most recently associated the Fluevog name with, their signature hourglass- and block-shaped heels having clomped their way into what I imagine have been innumerable Cacophony Society happenings.
It was with skepticism that I accepted an invitation to the Portland store's opening party, heeding the advice of a stylish acquaintance who demanded I give the admittedly imaginative brand another look. The traits I'd expected were certainly on display—overly chunky heels, overly squared toes—but there were also designs I liked, a few of which I got genuinely excited about (and one of which I bought).
Later, in a telephone conversation with John Fluevog himself, he spoke about the fact that the persistent styles that keep emerging have essentially been "voted in" by his cult of fans. It's hard to argue against the supply-and-demand model with a businessman, but one advantage to the company's mid-sized structure is that Fluevog still designs almost everything himself. More artist than craftsman, he draws and sometimes sculpts what comes to him, whether in reference to cars (he's a known classic car enthusiast on an aesthetic level, though he doesn't have a favorite model and more often bicycles), but can't actually physically construct a shoe. He's all whimsy.
Although he got his start in Vancouver, BC, selling other people's designs (fun fact: he was the first North American importer of—what do you know—Doc Martens), he has not built his name on a reverence for classic shapes or trends ("I feel like my customers are smarter than that") but on variety and experimentation. Popular styles reappear over the seasons, often with updates, but there are always brand-new ideas, and never a shyness toward color. The size of the operation, and the fact that he does very little wholesaling, makes that degree of variance possible. The longtime Fluevog fan will continue to be serviced, but new ideas have the potential to attract new customers. Love the shoe or hate the shoe, I respect the risk: a strong point of view elicits a strong reaction.