Hush Puppy Bassets

Many of us of a “certain age” remember Hush Puppies, the first casual shoe. Made of brushed pigskin and constructed on a lightweight crepe rubber sole, the Hush Puppy was something of a footwear revolution. Until 1957, high-end casual shoes were virtually non-existent. Folks either wore dress shoes, or they wore cheap sneakers.

Hush Puppy, Basset Hound, Hank The Basset, Velvet and Jasmine, basset, advertising,marketing

 

Created by Wolverine World Wide Inc, in Rockford, Michigan, one out of every ten adults in the United States came to own a pair of Hush Puppies by 1963. Seemingly everyone had a pair, from David Bowie and Princess Diana’s custom-made pair, to Tom Hanks (who wore them in Forest Gump) and Dennis Rodman. Even Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack and the Beatles wore them.  They were the first shoes advertised on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but a real “electrifying” boost to the brand came in 1965 at a Rolling Stones concert in Sacramento, California. Keith Richards accidentally touched his guitar against an ungrounded microphone and was knocked unconscious. Medics believed that the crepe-soled Hush Puppies he was wearing saved his life.

Comfort was certainly part of the shoe’s appeal, but their popularity may also been due to the lovable face that advertised the shoes, soulful Basset Hounds named “Velvet,” and her “sister,” Jasmine. The dogs were owned by Chuck Greb, grandson of founder, Philip Walker, and the national sales director of the original parent company. “Velvet” and her sister “Jasmine” were the embodiment of sound marketing strategy, and their images had one of the highest brand recognitions in the world to the extent that many countries reported an astounding 90% recognition.

Tragically, Velvet went missing from Greb’s home in 1973, and a few days later, a heartbroken Jasmine decided to go looking for her. A media storm of public outrage rarely seen over missing pets ensued. Jasmine’s body was eventually found at the bottom of a silo, and Velvet was never found.

As for the shoe’s name, Hush Puppy, credit a savvy Wolverine Shoe company executive, James Gaylord Muir. Hush Puppies were the name of fried cornballs (cornmeal, flour, eggs, salt, baking soda, milk and water, sometimes with onions and peppers thrown in) that hunters and fishermen in the South feed their dogs to quiet them down or “hush the puppies” so they could talk. “Barking dogs,” meanwhile, has been a common euphemism for aching feet, so what better way to quiet those “barking dogs” than to put them in a pair of Hush Puppies?

Over the years, different Bassets have represented the company. In 2011, it was “Jasonian of Westchester” (“Jason” to his friends) whose people responded to Wolverine World Wide’s new ad campaign for their Hush Puppy Shoes.  Jason had no formal modeling training, but they auditioned him anyway. He was the very last dog to be seen on the day, but he was their pick. Jason became an overnight superstar appearing in magazines and print ads all over the world:

Hush Puppy, Basset Hound, Hank The Basset, Velvet and Jasmine, basset, advertising,marketing

Jason

Hardly a shoe of the past, the revival of retro fashions that came in the late 90s saw the shoe’s popularity revive. As of 2006, more than 19 million pairs of Hush Puppies were sold in 135 countries, and last year, Hush Puppy had its 60th Brand Anniversary in New York City at the rooftop venue of the Viceroy hotel. Each guest was treated to their very own pair of Hush Puppies shoes before being taken on a dog walk through Central Park by the brand’s iconic Basset Hound represented by Instagram star and fellow New Yorker, Hank The Basset. Co-hosts were other Basset Hounds from the Tri-State Basset Hound Rescue.

Seriously, take a gander at the shoes and see if you can’t picture them in a dog show ring?

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2 thoughts on “Hush Puppy Bassets”

  1. Great story!

    I live in Western Canada and often took my two hounds (a Beagle and a Basset Hound) camping in the Canadian Rockies, where there are a LOT of Japanese tourists in the summer. I came to the conclusing that in Japan there must be a lot of ads for Hush Puppies but very few actual Bassets, because the Japanes would excitedly point to Chloe, yell excitedly “Hush Puppy! Hush Puppy,” and run over and ask if they could take a picture. Chloe, a very typical Basset, was an absolute HAM who just ate it up, never tiring of posing and showing herself off.

    Thanks for the memories.

    • What a wonderful anecdote, Natalie, the visual you paint of Chloe and the tourists is so vivid! Thank you for sharing this delightful tale!

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