When it comes to shoes and boots this season, fringe is on top. Soft Minnetonka Moccasins, with their signature hanging strips of suede, have inspired designers and urban bohemians for decades. Over the past year, their popularity has been soaring.
In light of the uncertain economy, they are relatively affordable -- basic shoes start at $30, and more elaborate boots with three tiers of fringe are $86. Plus, every style is completely flat, making them far more comfortable and practical than stilettos.
With these populist perks, it's not surprising that moccasins are having a fashion moment. But even trendsetters who would theoretically be able to afford much pricier versions by Jimmy Choo ($495) and Michael Kors ($475) favor the Minnetonka brand. Fashion muse Kate Moss has been sporting them for years. Last month she was spotted in brown knee-high Minnetonka mocs with a pair of denim cutoffs in London. Young stars Lindsay Lohan, Blake Lively and Mischa Barton also have been photographed in them.
That said, the footwear-of-the-moment isn't a one-season wonder. In the recently published "The One Hundred: The Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own," authors Nina Garcia and Ruben Toledo identify must-haves such as pencil skirts and red lipstick, but recognize Minnetonka Moccasin by the brand name. They wrote: "Many people have made fashion versions of the original, but the original is still the hands-down favorite."
Those originals, as the Minnetonka implies, have local roots. However, there are a few misconceptions to be cleared up about them, starting with the fact that the company is headquartered in Minneapolis and has never been based or even affiliated with the city identified in the moniker.
"Minnesota, Minnehaha, Minnetonka ... the name sounds Native American and local in origin," said David Miller, current president of the family-owned shoe business.
His grandfather Philip Miller started Minnetonka Moccasins in 1946, after World War II, as a gift supplier for resorts. "There was more automobile traffic because of the growing highway system in the United States," he said. "Wherever people went, from Yosemite to northern Minnesota, they would buy trinkets, and the moccasins were part of that."
Tourist souvenirs aside, are there any authentic Indian roots? "No, we've never associated ourselves with a Native American product or been made by Native Americans," said Miller. "Moccasins are part of the Native American culture. I'm sure at one time there was authentic product being sold, but not by us."
Specific styles of Minnetonka Moccasins have had moments in the spotlight in recent years: In 2005, it was the classic with beaded eagles, and a few years before that, it was the lace-up boots.
Many of the styles, from shoes to ankle boots to knee-highs, are hot now, especially in Los Angeles and New York. "We've been involved in fashion cycles, but this is very broad. We're honored, amused and flattered," Miller said.
Much of the credit is due to the celebrity connection. Miller is very familiar with the impact that model Moss has had on business. "Kate will be in a magazine, wearing boots identified as Minnetonkas, and our distributor in Japan will call the next day," he said. "That's the world today -- small and instantaneous."
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7310