North Korea might be one of the least accessible and most authoritarian countries in the world, but could its leader, Kim Jong-un, be emerging as one of its most fashion-aware politicians?
On a recent visit to the Naval Command of the Korean People’s Army to mark Navy Day, the elusive leader donned a pair of “mandals”, teaming his stone-coloured suit with a pair of light-grey fisherman sandals, worn, naturally, with socks.
Just last month, Vogue magazine declared these shoes the footwear of the season, while arbiter of everyday fashion John Lewis said sales of its Lisbon Fisherman Sandals were up 200% from last summer. By contrast, Birkenstock sales were up only 63%.
Not quite a shoe – though not simply a sandal either – fisherman shoes usually feature interwoven straps and a buckle around the ankle, and have become footwear for in-between seasons and situations, being both cool but practical.
Inspired by the shoes worn by Mediterranean fishermen during the 1940s, Tim Little, the owner of Grenson, whose Quincey fisher-style sandals have been a bestseller this summer, says the style has been around for centuries.
“It’s a shoe that allows your feet to breathe and most importantly allows the water to drain away,” he says. “It’s also a sign that we’ve finally moved on from ‘ugly’ sandals that dominated the pandemic.”
Bolstered by the ultra-expensive label The Row, whose fisherman sandal comes in at around £1,000, they also appeared on the Gucci and Prada catwalks and the shop floors of Dr Martens and Marks & Spencer. Fans include Hailey Bieber and Taylor Swift.
Kim’s footwear has captured attention before. In 2015, he was reportedly seen wearing a pair of Shinuiju trainers, leading to countless nationals wearing fake versions of the same shoe. In 2018, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo suggested that his brogues were lined with insolesthat added an extra inch to his supposed 5ft 7in height.
On whether Kim wears lifts, John Everard, the UK’s ambassador to North Korea from 2006 to 2008, says his height remains a mystery.
“Given the great majority of photographs of him are from the waist up, we can never be too sure what he’s wearing on his feet – and I certainly haven’t noticed the sandals before,” he told the Guardian. “But just as he has official garb for official reasons, he also has a private life, so what he wears on his yacht could be anything.”
He adds: “We do know he likes the good things of life though – food, cars, things like that, so it’s quite possible he has discovered fashionable shoes too.”