Tartan up the clan McMarten: Many clothes manufacturers also weave extravagant promotional fictions. Roger Tredre puts the boot into a few myths

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The Independent Online
THIS month, for the first time, R Griggs, the Northamptonshire company that makes Doc Martens boots, has put the celebrated DM name on clothes. And to mark the occasion, it has revived the old McMarten tartan.

The tartan, which comes from the village of Wollaston in Northamptonshire, was created by the 17th-century Scottish eccentric Stuart MacRaddish, who was employed by the Griggs family. Privately, members of the Griggs family have always worn the McMarten tartan, making up their own tartan trews and velvet coatees lined with green taffeta, matched with cherry-red, eight-hole DM boots. Now, at last, the McMarten tartan is going mass-market.

If only the tartan's history were true. The McMarten tartan is a fiction, convincing enough to fool American and even Scottish journalists who have contacted Griggs in recent weeks for more details. The fibs do not stop with the tartan. Every piece of clothing in the Doc Marten workwear-inspired collection has a name with a slice of cod history attached: the 'Weston-super-Mare' jacket, the 'Ramsbottom' trouser, the 'Neath' waistcoat, the 'Stanley' shirt.

The most curiously named is the 'Tiddyogi', allegedly a fisherman's smock from Cornwall with two large front pockets. These were traditionally lined with a material that would keep Cornish pasties warm while the fishermen were at sea.

Dr Martens is not the first name to invent history. Young European casualwear and jeans companies are expert at devising personalities for themselves. Charles Chevignon, the founder of Chevignon (a French brand known for its leather jackets), is a mythical French aviator. Ted Baker, the man behind the British shirt label of the same name, is a right-on kind of fellow dreamt up by the company's managing director, Ray Kelvin. An eccentric sense of humour is the common link between these brands. Everyone knows it is a game; there is no serious attempt to fool the consumer.

The strongest influence running through the brochures, advertising copy and labelling is surrealism. Last year, Paul Smith (a designer who really exists) produced a summer brochure of models in suits feeding penguins at London Zoo. The autumn catalogue showed models carrying giant hot dogs and strawberries, or superimposed against a giant plughole.

For the new Doc Martens clothing collection, the company commissioned the rising star Platon to photograph Pauline and Barry, his next- door neighbours. The images, combining surrealism and kitsch, have been printed on DM T-shirts; the best depicts Pauline and Barry at home with three flying Doc Martens boots on the wall. Platon says: 'It was refreshing working with them rather than models. I find my next-door neighbours more interesting than any celebrity.'

Diesel, one of the biggest-selling Italian brands, produces a biannual magazine that has become a cult read. The autumn issue is full of surreal images. One page has a picture of hastily scrawled personal ads in a newsagent's window: 'Exchange] Exchange] Will exchange classic Bee Gees record collection for one pair of size 28-inch Diesel 'Jane' women's denim jeans - must have side waist zipper, 14in bottoms. Contact Miss S'dom.'

Why do fashion companies go to such lengths to create identities for their products? 'For the same reason as other companies, ones which make beer, or cars, or chemicals,' says Brian Baderman, British editor of the Diesel magazine. 'There are lots of jeans manufacturers and Diesel had to find a way of expressing itself. It chose to do so by becoming a kind of patron of a publication which treats its clothes almost incidentally. I think the catalogue creates a more substantial feeling than advertising could: it gives Diesel character.'

The design force behind Doc Martens Clothing is Red or Dead, the young fashion company that has worked closely with R Griggs for years. Wayne Hemingway, managing director, says: 'There's not enough humour in fashion. I like a laugh, personally. We've tried to lighten everything with this collection, give ourselves - and, we hope, our customers - a bit of fun.'

Mr Hemingway believes the DM sense of humour is quite different to that of Diesel and other continental brands. 'The mood is very specifically British and very working-class, of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.'

Mr Hemingway, by the way, is the son of a Mohawk Indian and former world wrestling champion called Billy Two Rivers. He studied meteorology before setting up a market stall with his then girlfriend, now wife, Geraldine, trading under the name Red or Dead - a tribute to his colourful ancestry. And that is a true story.

Oh, and by the way, Dr Martens did exist. He was Claus Maertens, a Bavarian doctor, who designed a comfortable shoe after a skiing accident. With the help of an engineer, Dr Herbert Funck, he created an air-cushioned sole using old tyres. And that, believe it or not, is also a true story.

Dr Martens Clothing is available from stores nationwide, including Harrods, Selfridges, Red or Dead, and selected branches of Millets.

(Photograph omitted)

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