They’re Big. They’re Red. But Are They Boots?

From the people who brought you cologne that smells like WD-40, “Birkinstock” sandals made from Birkin bags and Times Newer Roman, a font ever so slightly wider than Times New Roman, comes a hotly anticipated new release: the Big Red Boot.

The boots were created by MSCHF, a New York-based collective with a rich history of trolling consumer culture, sometimes doing so by selling consumer goods. Images of the boots, which are expected to go on sale next Thursday, have captivated Twitter and TikTok with their absurdity.

It takes only a glance to understand why. The AirPod-shaped boots are globby from toe to ankle, at which point they jut straight up to midcalf. They are a shade of red that can only be described as “red,” recalling Babybel cheese, clown noses and Swedish Fish. And they are smooth — too smooth — as if a pair of Moon Boots were pumped full of Botox. They look more like the idea of a shoe than a shoe itself.

“Big Red Boots are REALLY not shaped like feet, but they are EXTREMELY shaped like boots,” thebrand said in a news release.

They are, in a word, cartoonish — seemingly by design. (MSCHF calls the shoes “cartoon boots for a cool 3-D world.”) Online, they have been compared to the footwear of the anime character Astro Boy and of Boots, the helpful sidekick of “Dora the Explorer.”

They began appearing on social media this month, in images from a photo shoot featuring the model Sarah Snyder and on the feet of the Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. On TikTok, they racked up more than 20 million views. Commenters mocked the boots; headlines declared them “stupid,” “absurd” and divisive.

The model Sarah Snyder shows off a pair of the boots in a promotional image released by MSCHF.Credit…Garrett Bruce

MSCHF rejected the idea that the boots were a joke. “It’s not a satire,” MSCHF said in a statement to The New York Times, after declining to be interviewed. “But what’s interesting is that we’re at a moment in time where it doesn’t have to be.” The group said the cartoonish aesthetic had been “mainstreamed enough” to make the Big Red Boot legible as, you know, a boot.

It is true that bulbous footwear has recently made it down runways for Loewe and Balenciaga, and that some other accessories, like handbags, have gotten puffy lately. In an all-caps “manifesto” about the boots, MSCHF pointed to Alexander McQueen’s similarly surreal “armadillo” shoes.

MSCHF may be releasing the boots with a straight face, but they are the work of a team that has long understood the relationship between divisiveness and virality. Members of the group have released a litany of pranks in the form of products since 2016, but MSCHF was officially founded in 2019, by Daniel Greenberg, Gabriel Whaley, Stephen Tetreault, Kevin Wiesner and Lukas Bentel (they are not fond of titles).

Some of the brand’s past outrage bait has courted sacrilege. (At the time of a 2020 feature in The Times, its office in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn had a decorative pentagram on the floor.) In a 2021 collaboration with Lil Nas X, it released “Satan Shoes”: Nike Air Max 97s that contained the blood of MSCHF team members. Nike swiftly sued.

“We’re OK being hated,” Mr. Greenberg told The Times that year. “We just don’t want apathy.”

This time around, the footwear seems to be finding an audience eager to be in on the joke.

“I’m getting to the point with fashion where I want to wear things that make no sense,” said Sophia Attie, 24, a paralegal in Brooklyn who owns a pair of light-up Crocs released in collaboration with 7-Eleven.

Ms. Attie said that she would not pay the boots’ $350 retail price, but that she liked the idea. “I want someone to look at my feet and go, ‘That’s dumb,’” she said.

“They remind me of Clifford the Big Red Dog,” said Jacinda Pender, 24, a model and makeup artist in Los Angeles who was also interested in owning the boots. “Like, OK Clifford, I see you with the boots!”

Although the boots are not yet available to the public, the influencers and sneakerheads who have been sent pairs in advance of their official release have provided MSCHF with a bottomless well of social media fodder.

Steve Natto, a sneaker YouTuber, received a pair of the boots before their public release date. He said he “tried doing casual walking” in them, and was met with success.Credit…Steve Natto

A pair of Big Red Boots in a size 10 arrived on the doorstep of Steve Natto, 25, a sneaker YouTuber in Philadelphia, on Feb. 1. He promptly gave them a test drive for his audiences on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

“I tried doing casual walking; I even tried jumping in them,” he said, adding that he had received several follow-up comments asking if he could drive in them: “I’m not sure you can.”

A pair arrived on Monday at Bowery Showroom, a concept store and content house on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. (Mr. Natto and Matt Choon, the showroom’s chief executive, were sent free pairs of the boots; both men said they were not paid to film content about them.)

Mr. Choon said customers had been coming in to film videos in the boots nonstop since they arrived. He said the store’s single pair would soon be on loan to the rapper Fivio Foreign to wear in a music video.

“They have all of the elements to viral marketing: the influencers, the rollout,” Mr. Choon said. “Every single ingredient is there.”

Staff members have uploaded several videos of the boots to the showroom’s TikTok account. In one video that was filmed by Michael Pico, a stylist, a customer tries on the zipperless boots and gets stuck in them.

The showroom staff did eventually wrest them off — but only by pulling the customer’s leg.

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