From desert to Oasis

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In 1969 the tag-line for a Clarks Desert Boots advert in The New Yorker read, "The off-beat casual for up-beat intellectuals". The ad (below) features a photograph of a Desert Boot and a drawing of an "up-beat intellectual", who looked like Jarvis Cocker with a Barry Manilow haircut. The design of the Desert Boot hasn't changed at all since then and judging by their new advertising campaign, shot by David Bailey, nor have the people who wear them.

Clarks shoes hold a poignant childhood memory for anyone whose parents once forced them into anatomically correct footwear. But the company, still a famous provider of school shoes, are pushing the fashion angle, as celebrities such as the Oasis brothers Liam and Noel, Damien Hirst, and (funnily enough) Jarvis Cocker wear their Original shoes and boots - not to mention competition from the other great classic shoes, Hush Puppies. Desert Boots were launched in America (the only Clarks shoes not to have been launched in the UK), by Nathan Clark, now 80, the great- grandson of one of the founders of the company.

Clark, who was posted to Cairo during World War II, had been inspired by officers of Montgomery's Eighth Army who wore hand-made, crepe-soled suede boots bought from Egyptian street markets. Upon his return from the war in 1945 he set to work on his idea for a new classic style of boot. Five years later, after a multitude of sketches, and fights with the in-house design team (who thought the boots would never sell), he launched them across the US. Since then 10 million pairs have been sold world-wide.

The success of a product such as these boots is dependent on its perceived image to the public. Consequently, in its 47-year history the boots have gone through a series of revivals. In the Fifties they were worn by Teddy boys to accompany their greased quiffs and Edwardian jackets. In the Sixties it was the Mods who made the boot their own. Percy Parker is the modern- day Mod who features in the David Bailey campaign. As a revivalist who runs a club called Happiness Stan's for Sixties R&B, northern soul and psychedelic jazz enthusiasts, he notices what he calls the "trainspotter type" at his shindigs. They wear the Mod look head to toe, from fish- tailed parkas and pudding-bowl haircuts to Desert Boots. "That boot is one of the few authentic items left for those who want to look the part," he says.

Until the present day it has been Mod revivals (1979 and 1987) that have seen Desert Boots dusted off, repackaged and sold back to the public, but Graham Sim, international brand manager for Clarks, says it is a different story today:

"Each generation discovers them anew. This campaign is about their Britishness, especially abroad where everything English is in vogue right now." In Japan and Los Angeles Desert Boots are selling like hot cakes; they have never stopped selling in France or Italy (although they aren't doing too well in the Gobi and Sahara deserts); and in England sales are climbing steadily.

And it's not just men who are buying them these days; it's the girls, toon

Melanie Rickey

Desert Boots cost pounds 43 a pair for men and pounds 36 for women (call 0990 785 886 for your local stockist). They are available in sand, stone, black, chocolate brown, red, green, blue and yellow; also a limited run in baby blue.