You say “Tomatoe” I say “Tomahto”. The same goes with the shoe brand name, SEBAGO. No matter which way you elect to pronounce it, Sebago is a great brand. Sometime during NYFW, I fell into a huge clothing rut – I no longer knew what I wanted to wear, and despite a stuffed walk-in closet at home, nothing looked right. As I sat in Robert Verdi’s Luxe Laboratory, looking at the Sebago display, the answer came to me- preppy dressing.
By this, I mean how we used to dress in the late Seventies in Middle School and at Greenwich High. There was a uniform and it transitioned me into my freshman year at Duke. The early Eighties were a throwback period to conservatism. Ronald Reagan had just been elected President, and it was good to look WASP, ie: subtly rich. At this same time, Lisa Birnbach’s Preppy Handbook came out and served as the how-to get the look of affluence.
Key to the look is the boat shoe and the penny loafer. Anyone in Middle School who didn’t have Dock or Top Siders was a social outcast. One had a rounded toe, the other a square toe, and either was acceptable, as long as they were by Sperry. Only those most tuned into fashion back then knew that the ORIGINAL boat shoe was actually manufactured by SEBAGO, in 1946. Friend, R. Scott French, fashion designer and co-owner of The Fashion List, was one of the few who KNEW. Little good this did him as his less enlightened Baltimore classmates kept insisting that his Sebago docks were “wrong” and their Sperrys were “right”.
Once at Duke, I swapped my topsiders for penny loafers in cordovan and wore them with jeans and some of my Mother’s tweed blazers and a prize Diana Vreeland red tweed blazer [with suede elbow patches]through fall and early winter.
Years later, I remembered my beloved topsiders and loafers while flipping through the September 2011 People’s Special Fashion Issue, with the blaring headline, “Kate’s Style Secrets!”. On p. 51 lay the answer to my “Whatever Do I Wear?” crisis. There, at the top of the page, were a pair of Sebago “Bala” mocassins, with an oily wax finish that looked great with Kate’s J Brand jeans and a simple button down shirt.
Years later, at the Luxe Lab, I learned from Tracee Yang, Harrison & Shriftman’s PR Rep, that today’s Sebagos are all hand made in the Dominican Republic. They’ve kept the original designs we love but they’ve added some great fashion twists, by collaborating with artists such as Stash, an innovator in urban design who exhibited alongside the late Keith Haring, when he was 17 years old. Since then, he’s added a commercial aspect to his work, by collaborating with Nike and A Bathing Ape. We loved his short moc/boot that laces up and has a bit of spatter treatment to toughen up this beloved preppy staple.
Another noteworthy collaboration is with the Filson, a “better outdoor clothing company” that was established in 1897 in Seattle, by C.C. Filson, a former railroad conductor. His fledgling outdoor clothing store took off thanks to the Great Klondike Gold Rush [1897-9].
Sebago has mixed Filson’s oil tint cloths with Sebago leathers, most notably in a ruggedly handsome bag that’s also very practical. The bags are available exclusively in Bloomingdales’ selected NYC, Santa Monica, LA, and 59th Street.
Sure to be an editorial success are the women’s collection with Kimmie Smith, who’s known for her “nuvo glam style”. She’s already done a small collection for fall that’s being well received, but lookout for the spring collection, which will be available online in February and March. You’ll have to wait until then to pickup her irresistible colorful docksides.
For now, if you’re a guy, or shopping for one, you’re in luck. There’s a nice assortment of styles at the Sebago popup store at Saks 5th Ave. on the 7th floor. The salesmen there couldn’t be nicer. Seeing I was near tears after slogging through the rain to discover Saks isn’t yet carrying the Plaza and Bala Sebagos I wanted, they directed me to East 34th Street. It was there, thanks to them, that I finally scored, at Orva Shoes, just like they said, at 34 West 34th Street.
Now, I just have to wait until late October, for my pair of “Balas” to come in. I’ve just put in my order for the first tall boot I’ve bought in years – the Saranac, which has a stylish tweed panel offsetting the rich light brown leather and a practical lug sole.