From the late weeks of February, no one could escape the incessant social media pictures of people and celebrities sporting these obscenely cartoonish puffy shoes. These pictures, almost popping out of the screen, flooded Instagram and Twitter for their derisive but clever design. However, with the movement toward realistic AI-generated art, do the Big Red Boots symbolize a rejection of realism into surrealism in fashion?
In February 2023, MSCHF dropped its latest product: the Big Red Boot. MSCHF as a brand has a signature style of releasing tongue-in-cheek collectibles, often with the goal of virality — and occasionally controversy. The company describes the boots best as “cartoon boots for a Cool 3D World.” It certainly delivers on this promise of cartoonish surrealism as the boots look designed for the anatomy of a cartoon character. In fact, the shoes draw their main inspiration from Boots of Dora the Explorer (2000–19). They’re big, round and give a lot of attitude despite being so simple.
Currently, the shoe is sold out and is reselling online for as much as $1,500 compared to its original price point of $350. Its rise in popularity can be only attributed to the novelty and gimmick. Despite the price point, videos show the pure impracticality of the shoe, with people struggling to get them on and off. However, this is not deterring people from being spotted with them out and about — or at least on the internet. So far, celebrities such as Janelle Monae, Iggy Azalea, Lil Wayne and Diplo have been spotted sporting the shoe in various interpretations. But it is safe to say no one is really hitting the mark on styling the massive shoes.
The rise of the Big Red Boot should be interpreted as more than just another gimmick fashion piece taking over the internet. The Big Red Boot plays with the disconnect between online reality and physical reality. It takes norms and graphics people are used to seeing online and places them in a different context. It’s startling, but why is it so abrupt? Video games, animated pieces and AI are built on an imitation of physical reality, often praised for their ability to reach closer and closer to real-life renderings. However, it is rare to see physical reality imitate virtual reality given that the quality is often second-rate or juvenile. Hence, it’s what makes the Big Red Boots so puzzling to look at. It asks, “What if reality imitated technology instead?” The shoes elicit a visceral reaction as they seem out of place in this reality. The shoes feel surreal, and MSCHF’s marketing team says it best: “If you kick someone in these boots, they go boing!”
The growing popularity of AI content is erasing the division between reality and computer-generated content. AI software such as DALL-E and ChatGPT can create award-winning art, write essays and design clothing — often better than people can do themselves. It feels as if technology is able to produce a better reality than people themselves. Then, what is really the difference between reality and a computer-generated world nowadays? The two have become even closer than ever.
MSCHF moves the only next logical question: Why should only technology imitate reality? It gives a new perspective on the creativity behind these simple aspects of computer-generated reality. Despite the perception that computer-generated art and reality are “undeveloped,” there is true creativity behind its unique and distinct style that, when brought into real life, only feels wrong. The Big Red Boot embraces this absurd notion of this dissonance one boing at a time.
Interestingly enough, the Big Red Boot has also been dubbed by the internet as the “Astro Boy boot” because of its likeness to the sci-fi anime protagonist’s signature costume. In “Astro Boy” (2003–04), Astro is a robot who lives among humans, a reality that seems to be soon on the horizon. The anime has a retro-futuristic aesthetic, using the aesthetic of items of the past to imagine the image of the future. The future Astro Boy and other renditions of the far future have imagined is hopeful, efficient, perfect — much different than how it is currently turning out to be. Astro Boy is an interesting mascot for these shoes given the future it imagined is currently leaning toward dystopia. Reality has become a technocracy with an emphasis on logging and selling personal information instead of fighting crime for the betterment of society. The representation of Astro Boy seems to be nostalgia for a different reality.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that cartoon-style clothing will be taking over the runway and stocking closets. Most outfits paired with the boots frankly look bad. But, be on the lookout for puffy, large silhouettes. The future is looking puffy with the rise of puffy jackets, puffy handbags and even puffy furniture.