Style: El heeled

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's not often one finds a truly innovative fashion product, especially in footwear. Sure, there are the Manolo Blahnik types who do glamorous high heels and beautifully crafted confections for women's feet, and there is Churches and Berluti who offer similar standards of quality for men. After that, it's Russell & Bromley, Dolcis, Ravel, M & S or... bust. They all offer a version of the "shoe" as seen one hundred times before, albeit at different levels of quality. The Spanish shoe company, Camper, on the other hand, are totally different. Their concepts are unusual and curiously thought-provoking, seeming to be about life, feet, shoes, and their relationship with the floor and walking. Concepts are also used to separate each collection of shoes, Quick have athletic connotations, Mix are trainer/shoe hybrids, Twins are slightly mismatched pairs, and Pelotas look like old-fashioned football boots. At Home, Ethnic, and Industrial, hopefully speak for themselves.

In Spain everybody wears Camper, they are as ubiquitous as the Dr Marten and have their own shops at Spanish airports, which led to Camper gaining a small band of well-travelled British fans. Since 1995, there has been a shoebox-sized shop next door to Paul Smith in Covent Garden's Floral Street, and select outlets for their Mix range. But, at the end of the month, and due to popular demand, Camper will be opening in Brompton Road and New Bond Street, and are guaranteed to attract new, fashionable clients.

The shoes are certainly an acquired taste. They are resolutely casual, occasionally kooky, and come in unusual colours like blood red and corn yellow, as well as the usual black, navy and beige; some even look like drawings from cartoons, with graphic flowers and colourful crayon-like drawings. Their soles, too, are very distinctive, either thick crepe or made from moulded rubber or old tyres. But it is their core styles, particularly the best-selling Camalen canvas lace-up, Cartujano leather boots, and super-soft recycled leather moccasins, which have been around for more than 100 years, that are attracting the attention of chic-seekers eager for a new aesthetic on footwear.

Beyond the look of the shoe lies the true Camper philosophy, "happy feet makes for a happy person". This translates as Camper being probably the most comfortable non-athletic shoes in the world. Each sole is designed to cradle the foot and the toe section is always wide for comfort. Some fans liken wearing Camper to walking on a cloud, others (including me) say wearing them feels like walking on a little padded cushion.

The company was officially founded in 1975 by Lorenzo Flux, but it was his grandfather, Antonio Fluxa, who first designed and manufactured the Camalen back in the late 1870s in Majorca, where the first shop opened almost a century later. The Camalen, was derived from the traditional shoes hand-made by local "camperos" (Spanish for country people, and how Camper got its name) from off-cuts of leather, old tyres and canvas, and tied with hemp string.

Antonio Fluxa, a cobbler by trade, saw a business opportunity in these hand-made shoes, made a trip to England in 1877 to learn about shoe manufacture and came back to Majorca where he assembled machinery to make the Camalen, and later other styles. He passed these onto his son, who continued to run a wholesale business, but it was his grandson who made his shoes famous by opening Camper shops across the country, and later the world.

Both Jean Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani recently bought Pelotas from the Covent Garden shop, and are now confirmed fans. Ally Capellino used them for her recent catwalk show, and Hermes adopted the Cartujano boots for their stores.

You could be next.

Camper, 39 Floral Street, WC2. New shops at 8-11 Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, W1 and 35 Brompton Road, SW1 will open at the end of May

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