Now that our Clarks Originals collection has arrived in its entirety, we thought it'd be a good opportunity to take an in depth look at some of the most fascinating parts of the brand's famed legacy. Through an examination of the iconic Desert Boot, Desert Trek and Wallabee silhouettes and the unlikely subcultures that embraced them, we see just why Clarks has firmly cemented it's position as one of the most celebrated in footwear history.
The origin of the Desert Boot dates back to 1949 when Nathan Clark of the Clarks family noticed that Army officers in Burma were wearing “crepe-soled rough suede boots” as part of their casual attire due to their hard-wearing yet comfortable, lightweight construction. The original design appeared to be loosely based on the style of the Dutch Voortrekker boot that was worn during Western Desert warfare by the South African division of the Eight Army - hence the name 'Desert Boot'.
Returning back to England, Nathan Clark and pattern-cutter at the time Bill Tuxhill recreated the boot seen in Burma for a Western audience. A simple two-piece upper body with a crepe sole and a rounded-toe. Released to the English and US market in 1950 the Desert Boot became an icon due to it's popularity in Beatnik Culture and was later adopted in the 60's by Mods who wore them as part of their very strict and sleek uniform. With over 60 years of success the desert boot has been seen on the feet of many cultural icons from Steve McQueen to Bob Dylan, Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher and with no signs of dropping off the radar any time soon, now is a better time than to buy into the Clarks tradition.
Clarks Originals - Desert Trek
In the 70's on the other side of the Atlantic, Clarks shoes had a very different association and were being imported and snapped up by Jamaican fashion conscious dancehall revellers, fast becoming the staple shoe of the scene. Praised for their quality and appealing 'Made in England' stamp, "If you weren't wearing Clarks you weren't saying nothing" says reggae legend Dennis Alcapone. When government import bans made it difficult for Jamaica's emerging music stars to get their hands on their shoe of choice, they soon turned to DIY importation. Singers and producers travelling to the UK would return with boxes of Clarks for friends and family, with the more intrepid descending on the outlet stores to buy up whole batches of stock.
John MacGillivray of London record store Dub Vendor says in the book Clarks in Jamaica, "When I started the shop in Ladbroke Grove in 1980, a guy called Smithy used to bring our records over from Jamaica, and then take Clarks back. He'd go down to the factory in Somerset and buy them with the money he'd made from the records."
One particular style of Clarks, the Desert Trek carries an innocent-seeming embossed logo of a hiker with a backpack over his shoulder. To the denizens of West Kingston, however, this was clearly a man fleeing with a bag of swag, and so the desert trek has long been known by a more ghetto-ready name: "the bank robber".
Clarks Originals - Wallabee
With vocal admirers as diverse as Ghostface Killah and Erik Brunetti as well as recent collaborations with the likes of NY giants Supreme, its clear to see that the Clarks tradition has far exceeded the connotations of British youth subcultures and the Jamaican dancehall scene. Rumoured to be a popular footwear choice amongst Jamican yardies in 80’s New York, Clarks, and in particular the Wallabee, went on to conquer to streets of downtown NYC. Wu-Tang's Raekwon touches on the classic silhouette on his ‘95 debut album “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...” with dialogue-driven interludes at the beginning of several tracks featuring Rae and Ghostface Killah conversing about money, life, crime, and hip hop, and Clarks, among other things. The introduction to "Glaciers of Ice," involves Ghostface addressing his plans and methods of dyeing Wallabee-styled Clarks. In a 2005 interview, Ghostface Killah explained "We was in the car one day, driving around with the DAT machine with a microphone and we just started talking shit about how we're gonna do it this summer with the Clarks. The dyeing was something I was doing already. I'm an inventor. You can't f**k with me when it comes to style.