The history of the desert boot
Like the white sneaker or the Oxford shoe, casual shoes also have their icon. Halfway between formal and informal, one would dare saying that now it will never go out of fashion. Faux pas is a road you can easily take, but it keeps us on the right way. In 2013, it is 64 years old, in the prime age but still remains young. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the history of the desert boot, necessarily linked to the life of its creator’s one: Nathan Clark.
THe history of Clarks begins in a small town in the South West of England, in Somerset, 1825. Cyrus Clark, a Quaker, owns a wool cutting and tanning manufacture. It is only three years later that the company starts manufacturing shoes thanks to James Clark, Cyrus’ brother, who comes with the idea of creating leftovers sheepskin slippers. The model knows and immediate success as the Clark brothers sell up to 1000 pairs a month during the year 1842. They name it the “Brown Petersburg”.
After many events; a recession period forcing Cyrus and James to ask for loans to the Quaker community (1863), William, son of James Clark running the company and upgrading the manufacturing process by investing into Singer sewing machines, the launch of many now models helping the company building a solid reputation and another change a the head of the business with John, Roger and Alice Clark giving birth to the first Clarks advertising campaign in 1936, we come to the story of Nathan Clark.
We are in the 1940s and Nathan, great grandson of James is sent in Burma with the English troops during World War 2, then later to North Africa. There he notices that officers wear mid-high shoes during their free time. They look like very light derbies made of suede and welted on crepe soles. James found pairs in Cairo’s bazaar.
1949, Nathan Clark goes back to England, and his family still owns the big shoes manufacturing company, as it was before the war. He gets in touch with Bill Tuxhill, expert in patterns, to recreate the comfortable shoe he saw during his travels. Then, the created a shoes which upper is only made with two leather panels, with a rounded toe and the famous crepe sole : the desert boot is born.
Created to face hard weather conditions and to walk on difficult terrains, the desert boot knows a certain success in France and Italy, then England. More or less during the year of its release, the shoe is presented at the Chicago shoes fair in 1950. Indeed, Clarks’ financial power could already allow launching a product in various parts of the world.
The Clarks desert boots quickly becomes a symbol, being simultaneously worn by the beatnik in the US and the Mods in the UK. As the beat generation was more known like a libertarian movement, less assertive than the mod culture, this latter picture is more frequently attached to the desert boot then. During those years, the 1960s, the desert boot gained the iconic shoe status, being worn by many stars like Bob Dylan, the Who, Steve McQueen or even the Beatles (picture above, Georges Harrison on the left wears desert boots) with a dresscode composed of straight jeans (501), harringtons (G9), two-pieces suits, button-down collar shirts all frequently worn with a pair of desert boots from Clarks
Over the years the desert boots penetrated the common knowledge as casual closets. It is during the 70s and 80s that it became the rock icon we know today. In spite of this reputation, the shoe still remains versatile. A everyone knows then, it is a basic, matching quite everything you would wear. Far from the time when wearing Clarks was the sign of belonging to a specific social group, many brands released their own desert boot model, from the most luxurious shoesmaker to the lowest ranged, and all inspired from Clarks original model. This is the one we actually prefer over all the others: in camel, with jeans, chinos, a casual shirt or a simple t-shirt, it matches everything, in the most relaxed way! Never too elegant, nor too inelegant, comfortable, stylish… just perfection!
Clarks always kept the original desert boot in its range, but after a long …. it was really reintroduced in 2008 with the Clarks Originals line. In some way this was this mythic shoe come back in our warbrobe with a certain enthusiasm. One year later, the desert boot celebrated its 60 years, leading to many limited editions and giving birth to plently of colaborations. As always, I selected my favorites:
Well, where to find Clarks desert boots ? Almost everywhere:
and of course at :