Just Deserts…

The one piece of footwear that all of those of a Modernist persuasion have owned at one time or other is the desert boot. Looking good either worn with jeans or a suit, they are practical, comfortable, but above all, stylish.

In younger days, with money scarce, mine would usually come from what was then called Czechoslovakia, via my local East Lane Market. Of course, what we all craved was the desert boot of choice. The Clarks, the holy grail of crepe-based footwear.

The company was founded by James and Cyrus Clark, both of the Quaker persuasion, in Somerset in 1825. A few decades later, family member Nathan Clark designed a boot based on those he had seen worn off duty by army officers in Egypt during the Second World War. Made by local tradesmen in the markets of Cairo, they were the perfect footwear in the hot sandy conditions.

Clarks released their version of them in the UK in 1949 and they were soon imported into the Ivy League colleges of the US by those who loved a bit of the classic ‘olde English’ look.

In turn, the first wave of Modernists in London c. 1954/55, begin to notice them being worn in Esquire magazine photo shoots and on record covers by their modern jazz heroes and they began searching for them.

‘We wore them with white needlecord Levis, a good two inches above the boot. Always Clarks and you could only get them in the sand colour’ said legendary retailer John Simons to your correspondent recently.
‘Once it all went ‘Carnaby Street’, we moved on. Left them to it.…’

I personally finally purchased a few pair Clarks and was then tipped off onto the splendid Sanders Hi-Top style, which for many years was described and sold as the boot famously worn by the King of Cool’ himself Steve McQueen, in the seminal 1968 film ‘Bullit’

A few pairs of those later, we then discovered that in fact McQueen was said to be wearing ‘The Playboy’ style by another English company called Hutton.

After a few dormant years, the Hutton company is now back in business and making limited editions of the their boots once again and a fine piece of work they are too.

As for Clarks, well, things took a bit of a left turn there. It came to light that the brand had a cult status in Jamaica, which stretched back over fifty years. Made on a special ‘Caribbean’ last and known as the ‘Clarks booty’ it became a highly sought after shoe in the 1960s and 70s.

Musical artists returning home after sessions in London were know to have suitcases full of the Clarks in their hands when landing on home turf.
Various styles from the company remain big news over there

Now, we have a huge range of companies making the desert boot and its popularity appears as high as ever.

A design classic? Most certainly

The Mumper of SE5