From Mountain Trails To Runways: A Brief History of Salomon
From Mountain Trails To Runways: A Brief History of Salomon
- Words Marc Richardson
- Date January 08, 2019
Those who spent winters on the snowy slopes should be familiar with Salomon. The French company has made high-performance skis and racing snowboards for decades, in addition to some of the best boots and bindings in the world. On of its action sports pedigree, the brand additionally boasts a sterling reputation as one of the foremost purveyors of hiking shoes, crafting supremely durable footwear for harsh mountain climates. It’s understandable, then, that many viewed Salomon’s pivot towards fashion in 2015 with befuddled amusement. What was a brand so tightly tied to skiing and mountaineering doing in directional boutiques like The Broken Arm?
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Salomon was founded in 1947 in Annecy, a city nestled in the heart of the French Alps. At first, the company produced steel saw blades—about as far from the runway as one can get. Given the Salomon family’s surroundings, it quickly realized that its products were better suited for the burgeoning skiing industry and shifted its focus to making steel ski edges and intricate binding hardware. Salomon began to seriously focus on small, detailed parts in 1979, when the company started producing ski boots, which became a hallmark product category. For a brand synonymous with skiing, Salomon in fact only started making skis in the late 1980s, nearly four decades after the company was founded. In 1992, Salomon diversified even further with the introduction of hiking shoes. No longer focused solely on snow sports, mountaineering became a key tenet of the business and throughout the rest of the ‘90s and into the ‘00s, Salomon pushed itself into the hiking market with footwear, apparel and hardware. Eventually, specialty trail running shoes were added as well.
In 2001, the company introduced the Raid Race, its first shoe from the XA series. While the shoe hasn’t been central to fashion’s adoption of Salomon—surprising, given its chunky silhouette, unique midsole and yellow accents—it has been at the heart of Salomon’s footwear DNA since its inception, laying the foundation for shoes like the XA-Pro 3D GTX, which featured in Palace’s Spring-Summer 2017 lookbook.
By 2006, the trail running business was expanding and Salomon introduced a new silhouette to that market: the Speedcross. Felix Dejey, Product Evaluation Manager for Salomon Footwear, said that the company’s vision for the Speedcross “was very niche, and [it was unclear] whether [Salomon would] continue the line...the forecast was for maybe 1,000 pairs in the beginning.” Much to Salomon’s surprise, the Speedcross became the brand’s signature shoe selling a million plus pairs across Europe annually—a stunning success for a shoe developed with a decidedly niche market in mind. Worn by the world’s best trail runners, the silhouette has evolved over the years, adapted towards more demanding conditions. The most recent version, the Speedcross 4 GTX features a full lug outsole, Quicklace one-pull technology, a protective toe cap and a GORE-TEX membrane.
Come 2014, the Speedcross was ubiquitous on mountain trails and at any trail race. That same year, it made an unexpected appearance at The Broken Arm, a meticulously curated Parisian boutique revered by buyers from other stores, stylists, designers and fashion journalists—quite a far cry from those planning their next trek through muddy trails in the Alps. Romain Joste and Guillaume Steinmetz, two of the three partners behind the superlative retailer, told GQ Style that they were avid trail runners themselves and, as such, were well-acquainted with the Speedcross’ qualities. In their eyes, the Speedcross was a fit in The Broken Arm because Salomon “first [thinks] about function and materials, and sometimes it creates something stronger in terms of aesthetic than if you try to think of aesthetic first.”
Much like the shift from saw blades to ski blades, it didn’t take long for Salomon to realize the opportunity in the fashion market. By Fall/Winter 2015, the French brand and Parisian boutique were working on a collaboration. While other collaborations—the Horween leather decked Topo Design silhouette released Spring 2015, for instance—tested the waters, The Salomon x The Broken Arm Snowcross was Salomon’s true entry into the fashion realm. The collaboration preserved all the performance-driven details of Salomon’s classic Snowcross, with slight modifications made to the sole with a view towards daily urban wear. The only clue that this was in fact a lifestyle shoe was the unique colorway—turquoise and orange with reflective detailing.
Salomon’s timing could not have been more perfect, something Highsnobiety noted, writing that “technical footwear and…functionality-driven fashion has gained quite some momentum in recent years...from Acronym [and] Aether to the relaunch of Nike ACG.” Despite the seemingly exquisite timing and the fact that the collaborative Snowcross received widespread media coverage—something new for Salomon—many industry insiders were still perplexed when they saw winterized hiking shoes at The Broken Arm. Still, one would be remiss to describe the project as anything but a hit.
The positive reception the inaugural collaboration with The Broken Arm received convinced Salomon to delve further into fashion and two projects emerged with the intention of capitalize on the fashion world’s newfound interest in Salomon: Black Edition and a partnership with Boris Bidjan Saberi.
Black Edition debuted during Summer 2016 and has been a staple of the brand’s lifestyle sector ever since. Since Summer 2016, the essence of Black Edition has remained the same: Take Salomon’s S/LAB shoes—S/LAB is Salomon’s highest tear of innovative product—and offer them blacked out, instead of the project’s traditional white and red colorway. While black may seem like a staid choice, it’s important to remember that Black Edition didn’t emerge within the current context of colorful technical footwear and outerwear inspired by the hiking and the ‘90s., Salomon’s foray into fashion began when minimalist techwear was at its zenith and dark monochromatic looks were all the rage. Indeed, Black Edition has proven to be a safe bet and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where blacked out technical gear is not appreciated.
If Black Edition has played it relatively safe, offering new fans of the brand a conservative way to test out Salomon’s technology, then the brand’s ongoing partnership with Boris Bidjan Saberi has been the opposite. The collaborative endeavour debuted as part of 11 by Boris Bidjan Saberi’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection and presented the Speedcross 4 in all-black, all-white and a distressed olive/black/white colorway that looked as if it had been rigorously tested in the back trails of the French Alps. The partnership has continued, with the designer sending new—and increasingly unique—Salomon shoes down his seasonal runways. Models like the Bamba 2 have appeared in black, white and even terracotta and helped to position Salomon as a distinct and influential player within fashion. While The Broken Arm may have provided Salomon a platform to enter the market, it is the ongoing partnership with Boris Bidjan Saberi that has really allowed the brand to gain a foothold.
There was no way for Salomon to know that alpine-inspired techwear—particularly footwear—would be all the rage come 2018 when it first started working with The Broken Arm in 2015. Thanks to its work with The Broken Arm and 11 by Boris Bidjan Saberi, the brand unwittingly laid the groundwork for broader adoption within the fashion landscape. The Broken Arm and 11 by BBS, respected as they may be, still exist within a relative niche segment of the market. Ralph Lauren, on the other hand, is a much more mainstream name.
The American designer has developed a reputation for having an affinity for the French trail shoes, pairing them with stonewashed denim and a tuxedo jacket (yes, you read that right) at the CFDA Awards and with sweatpants, thick wool socks and a baseball jersey whilst throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. The highly lauded Marine Serre, the winner of the 2017 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, has also tapped Salomon for her Fall/Winter 2018 collection, harnessing the brand’s ME:sh technology to create a sneaker akin to a Nike Flyknit Trainer, but based on anatomical fit and biomechanics.
Perhaps most impressive is that Salomon has managed to penetrate fashion—a new market for the company—without jeopardizing its identity. It has managed to make technical hiking shoes fashionable and cool, simply by doing what the company does so well, and impressing the right people along the way. It doesn’t appear to be a flash in the pan, either. By all indications, Salomon will be a mainstay in lifestyle and street fashion. The brand is now working with Études, CMMN SWDN, SSENSE, Dover Street Market and Totokaelo, in addition to The Broken Arm and Boris Bidjan Saberi, and claims that over 50 retailers have expressed some degree of interest in carrying lifestyle-driven Salomon shoes. As hiking wear continues to trend, Salomon will undoubtedly continue its expansion into fashion.