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THE FATE OF THE EARTH SHOE

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Last weekend marked the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Not coincidentally, it also marked the 25th anniversary of Earth Shoes. An appreciation:

What are Earth Shoes? They were the first shoes to be marketed with a "negative heel"-meaning their heels were actually lower than their raised toes. This was said to mimic the effect of walking in sand and to make for orthopedically superior posture. In appearance, Earth Shoes pioneered the flanged, boxy look that epitomized much '70s design and can be seen in such later icons of the decade as Bruce Jenner's hair and the A.M.C. Pacer.

Did Earth Shoes originate somewhere in Scandinavia? No, Milan.

Really? No. Of course they're from Scandinavia. Designed in 1957 by a Copenhagen yoga instructor named Anne Kals┐, the shoes were first marketed in the U.S. under license by Raymond and Eleanor Jacobs in 1970. Impressed by Earth Day crowds gathering near their just opened store in New York City, the Jacobses made a snap decision to change the name of their product that very day from Anne Kals┐ Minus Heel Shoes to Earth Shoes. From a marketing standpoint, it was probably a wise move. Indeed, the couple soon found themselves presiding over a multimillion-dollar business. At the height of their popularity, Earth Shoes were available in dozens of styles: sandals, clogs, hiking shoes and deluxe, fleece-lined ankle boots. Sales peaked in 1974; in 1977, after a dispute with banks, the company was placed in bankruptcy and Earth Shoes went the way of quadraphonic Helen Reddy albums -- though the former have a place in the permanent collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Did Al Gore used to wear Earth Shoes? The Vice President told TIME that he cannot remember whether or not he ever had a pair.

Where do the top footwear tastemakers of the '90s stand vis-e-vis Earth Shoes? Manolo Blahnik, the pre-eminent European shoe designer, is an unabashed Earth Shoe fan: "It was the first shoe, [along] with the Jesus sandals, to make a social statement!" American shoe designer Kenneth Cole is another fan: "What was originally an antifashion statement 25 years ago has today become fashionable. They are a relaxed and comfortable alternative to other fashionable footwear."

They're really coming back? A Manhattan boutique specializing in trendy '70s memorabilia reports a sales boomlet in vintage Earth Shoes. And negative-heeled shoes continue to be manufactured by the Roots shoe company of Canada; demand is reported to be highest in Japan. By LINA LOFARO