- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

They look like giant loofahs and feel like fuzzy bedroom slippers.

You’ve seen them on Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson, on college campuses and in shopping malls.

Teenage girls who wear them over jeans or under miniskirts swear by them, but boys think they’re ugly.

“That’s probably why they’re called ‘Ugg,’ ” said 18-year-old Becca Loewenberg as she walked to class at George Washington University wearing a chestnut-colored pair of the boots over her blue jeans. “They’re not the best-looking things in the world, but they’re so warm.”

She received the $140 boots as a present from her mother and also owns a pair of Ugg slippers.

True fashion-forward celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow were first photographed wearing the clunky boots several seasons ago, which immediately made them trendy.

But those who track the shelf life of products like Fendi baguettes (“out”) and Earl jeans (“seriously out”) pronounced Uggs a fashion-victim purchase before they even appeared in stores, which now makes them so out that they’re back in.

Oprah Winfrey recently gave Uggs the thumbs-up and sales spiked, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The boots are the invention of Brian Smith, an Australian surfer.

According to the official Web site, www.uggaustralia.com, Australians have been stitching sheepskin boots on the beaches of Australia and New Zealand for years.

In 1978, Mr. Smith brought a few handmade pairs to California, where he liked to surf. He sold 48 pairs during his first year in the United States.

That’s when things started to get ugly. A combination of short supply and huge demand made them hot.

In 1995, the American corporation Deckers (owner of Teva sports sandals) bought out Mr. Smith and trademarked the name “Ugg.” The move caused considerable distress to Australian boot makers, who said the name was in common use for more than 50 years and was a generic term, much like cowboy boots. On Tuesday, after three years of legal wrangling, Australian boot makers won the right to use the name ugg without Deckers’ permission.

Of course, teenage girls are oblivious to the legal issues.

Rachel Weisman, 18, was spotted recently in front of Gelman Library on the George Washington University campus sporting what appeared to be a pair of sand-colored Uggs. But, true aficionados can spot the knock-offs from a tundra away.

“No, they’re Fuggs,” she confirmed. “That’s what we call the fake Uggs.”

Real Uggs come in 20 different styles, such as floral, studded or buckled, an array of colors and range from $120 for the classic boot to the $300 “Fluff Mommas.”

Whether they will rise above fad to become fashion staple — like an Hermes Kelly Bag or Gucci horsebit loafers — is up for grabs.

Certainly, not everyone is a fan. One Web site, Defamer.com, has called them “the human rights violation known as ‘Ugg boots.’ ”

In Washington, Sassy Jacobs, 30-year-old co-owner of Sassanova, the trendy shoe boutique in Georgetown, says Ugg boots are an affront to style.

“They’re horrible. They’re so out. We never carried them and we never will. They are so five years ago.”

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