Giving Rain the Boot

Wellies Grow Up, Italian-Style

Never underestimate the influence of a well-thought-out accessory. Too often in fashion, though, it's all about an entirely new look: this season, the essential peg-leg pant with the shrunken blazer and funky T. But despair not, the accessories trend from spring carries over in full force. Update any wardrobe with a few key pieces: a long skinny scarf, a vintage brooch, a new-style fedora, or--the accessory to beat all accessories--footwear. This season, rain gear offers something completely new. Rain boots have always had a certain alternative-fashion je ne sais quoi. Think of your old gumboots as a kid and how cool they looked with those '70s checkered pants, or the urban-hippy look when you wore them with a skirt and tights at university. Not a look for everyone, but definitely a look.

Venturing into a previously untapped market (save for those kooky kids' boots), Alessandra Pivato, designer of Regina Regis Rainboots, has put her mind to resuscitating the Wellington. On the line from her office in Montebelluna, Italy, with her business partner, translator, and husband, Alberto Regis, she comments: "[They were] outdated and poor, and we decided to add value to this abandoned segment. The Wellington was only for work, fishing, and gardening." With a little attention paid to styling and colour combinations, Regina Regis Rainboots hit the market in 2000. The initial foray into footwear for Pivato was becoming the sole importer for Italy of the celebrity-endorsed Havaianas flip-flops from Brazil. After a natural drop in orders come fall/winter, Pivato and Regis decided that her business needed a product to fill the gaps: "We saw a lack of invoices in winter because it was only a summer product, so we looked for a winter segment."

Pivato's conversion of the rain boot from fashion faux pas to fashion do was simple: add feminine detailing and prominently brand the product. The Regina Regis Rainboots come in 20 fantasy-designed patterns, polka dots, plaids, and 10 solid colours; there's everything from clean white to camouflage. They are also available with added details, such as laces, tags, and ribbons. "Then we started working on a shape....We wanted a more feminine look." The boots are made of PVC that has been injected into moulds, all designed and manufactured to the Regina Regis specs and made in Italy, of course. The final branding touch? Memorable packaging. Pivato explains: "They were typically sold in plastic transparent bags. It was a service product." The boots now come in a black box--cum--cardboard suitcase, adding a certain luxury aspect. And it hasn't taken the luxe brands long to follow suit. Burberry leads the parade with a gumboot in its trademark plaid; Marc Jacobs and Prada follow.

The rain-protection factor is obvious, and given the mild West Coast winters, these boots transition easily from fall to winter to spring. Lined with a special insole for added warmth, they are much cozier than their predecessors. The most popular, according to Sabrina Goeb, Quebec sales rep for the brand, are "the Kimono Flower--black with dashes of pink flower all over--and the Love Rose: white with light pink roses". Matched with a pair of cuffed jeans or a mini with tights for the mod look, they gracefully merge utility and style. Priced at $135, they're available at Moulé (1994 West 4th Avenue or 2016 Park Royal South), Marilyn's (5359 Headland Drive), and Gravity Pope (2205 West 4th Avenue). And the potential permutations for spring '05 are more than tantalizing. Goeb and Pivato tempt buyers with thoughts of sugar plums, heeled rain boots, rain shoes, and a small plastic line of clothing including a blazer, cape, trench coat, miniskirt, bags, and hats. The world of PVC just stepped outside of kinky and into fashion.