Pure and Simple 1950. One year after its debut at the Chicago shoe fair, the Clarks Desert Boot goes on sale. Designed by Nathan Clark, it’s different. It’s unexpected. It’s Original.
It’s 1944 and Nathan Clark is serving with the British Army in Burma. It seems a world away from the village of Street in Somerset where his family’s shoe business is based. When he’s not on duty, Clark socialises with his fellow officers. He quickly notices that many are wearing simple suede boots with crepe soles. He discovers that the boots come from a bazaar in Cairo where the officers had them specially made. Clark sets about cutting out prototype patterns from newspapers. He is convinced that a version of these boots could become a new signature for his family’s 125 year-old footwear company.
Upon his return to England, Clark sources the finest materials and craftsmen to transform his idea into reality. Using a Nature Form last from the existing Clarks Guernsey sandal shape, his construction methods were ground breaking. At a time when most men’s shoes were made from stiff, formal leather it was almost unthinkable to use suede, yet Clark opted for Natural Beige 2mm suede from Charles F. Stead, the supplier which still creates Desert Boot suede today. Clark also borrowed the Guernsey’s stitch-down construction, a technique which gave the Desert Boot its distinctive orange stitching.
YET, WHEN CLARK PRESENTS HIS NEW INNOVATION TO THE BOARD, THEY ARE FAR FROM IMPRESSED. ‘IT WILL NEVER SELL’ IS THE RESPONSE OF HIS EXTENDED FAMILY MEMBERS. UNDETERRED AND SPURRED ON BY HIS INSTINCT THAT THE DESERT BOOT IS THE STYLE WHICH THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR, NATHAN CLARK TRAVELS TO AMERICA TO PRESENT HIS INNOVATION.
The Desert Boot launched to trade at a shoe fair in Chicago in 1949. The style was picked up by the Fashion Editor of Esquire and America was quickly captivated by the Clarks Desert Boot’s deceptively simple silhouette and unusual crepe sole. The Clarks Desert Boot was declared as the world’s first true ‘dress casual’ shoe.
They soon grew popular across the world. In France, they became known as ‘Les Clarks’ while everyone from Ivy League students to Jazz artists adopted Desert Boots as part of their uniform.
The Desert Boot is now an established icon for subcultures in all corners of the globe. Its silhouette is set to define cool but smart style for decades to come. But the Desert Boot would not exist today if it weren’t for the passion, belief and innovation of Nathan Clark.
CELEBRATING 65 YEARS OF THE DESERT BOOT: AN EXHIBITION AT THE MUSEUM OF BATH AT WORK
The Shoe Museum based at the Clarks HQ in Street, Somerset, in collaboration with The Museum of Bath at Work is presenting the story of the Desert Boot in a new exhibition. The exhibition runs from Friday April 10th until Saturday October 31st 2015. Beginning with the origins of the Desert Boot which was designed in 1949 by Nathan Clark, the exhibition will tell the story of the people who designed the Desert Boot, the people who made them and the people who wear them. Visitors will be able to find out how the boot has been adopted by Jamaican Rudeboys, Mods and 1960s Parisian students alike, and was then reinstated as a British classic during the Britpop era of the 1990s.