LIM College's new logoSAN ANTONIO — It was once the shoe choice of 1960s hippie types and, much later, the grunge-wearing generation. Now the classic, comfort-over-style Birkenstock sandal is this summer’s fashion coup.

Hipsters and fashionistas rediscovered the Birk this summer when it was featured in high-end department store catalogs and in collections by designers Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Edun and others who sent the shoe — or their own versions of it — down the runways.

The haute footwear first reappeared a year earlier through designer Phoebe Phio of Céline. But the trend picked up speed when the Birkenstock showed up on the spring 2014 catwalks six months ago.

This season, Birkenstocks are having a major revival in “hippie chic” prints and metallic hues meant to be worn with skirts and dresses, not just shorts and pants, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director of New York’s Tobe trend forecasting agency.

Hollywood celebs such as Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Drew Barrymore and Leonardo DiCaprio have embraced the shoe and its “stock and sock” look of the sandal worn with colorful hosiery, a trend that will continue into fall, teaming up, yet again, with the return of 1990s grunge.

David Kahan, head of the Novato, California-based Birkenstock USA, isn’t surprised the brand is in the limelight. He credits designers styling models with the shoe and other footwear that mimic the look.

“What happens on the runways eventually tends to interpret itself relatively to mainstream,” he said in an email. “It’s great attention to the style, but we learned quickly that consumers want the real thing, and now we simply can’t keep up with demand.”

Kahan has reported that increased attention to the brand has led to a 30 percent uptick in business for 2014 from this point last year.

“It’s definitely flattering to see designers and the fashion community take interest, but to us it means that many more people are being introduced to how comfortable Birkenstock is to wear,” he said, offering that he doesn’t think of Birkenstock USA as a fashion firm first but rather a comfort company.

And comfort, he said, is why the brand is trending with new wearers: “Women and men are realizing what our long-time fans have known, that it’s OK to take off the stilettos and oxfords, and put on something that’s truly a game changer.”

Melanie McIlhany, a buyer for San Antonio’s Birkenstock General Store and Leather Goods Co., said sales have increased by about 20 percent this season from last, thanks to buzz about the brand.

“Birkenstocks are flying off the wall,” she said, but also asserted that interest in the shoe from new and regular customers isn’t just about looking trendy.

“It’s more than fashion. It’s also because of the wellness trend. It’s not just a shoe; it’s a healthy shoe because of the way the footbed is made with four arches, whereas most shoes support the main arch. Over time, the shoe molds to your foot. It’s a lifestyle change for your feet,” she said.

Fashion historian Amanda Hallay, who teaches at New York’s LIM College, said the classic is having a revival “because enough time has gone by for the Birkenstock to find its place again.”

She said a Birkenstock wearer also is making the statement that however fashionable, ugly or old-fashioned the shoe might look to others, “they’re putting comfort first. This is why we are now seeing Birks teamed in magazines with designer couture — it communicates the message that although someone might spend $4,000 on a Marc Jacobs outfit, they’re secretly quite sensible and don’t want to accessorize with blisters.”

Kahan said come next spring, the brand will introduce wedges and platforms in new materials, including patent leather and mirrored motifs. But the all-important footbed will stay the same, a foundation that he said is the “DNA of Birkenstock.”