Men's Fashion

A Classic Brand Gets Weird

Has anyone checked on the Clarks crew lately? I’m not saying that mind-altering substances are involved, but the classic British footwear brand, which has been crafting reliable footwear since 1825, seems to be having a whole lot of fun recently. Have you noticed? I think I started paying attention sometime last year, after a Supreme collaboration that featured woven suede Wallabees in acid green and hot pink suedes.

Clarks is a brand that occupies a rare and respected space in menswear. Like a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, a waxed Barbour Bedale jacket or some Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, it’s nearly impossible for the shoes to go out of style. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment and offer a few new takes on an old favorite. And like those previously mentioned brands, Clarks isn’t afraid to collaborate or dabble with limited editions. After all, what’s an icon, if you can’t play around and have some fun with an easily recognized silhouette and long-revered reputation?

Take the brand’s signature desert boot. Launched by Nathan Clark in 1950, the simple suede chukka is made to be durable, comfortable and good looking—all at a price that isn’t prohibitively expensive. It needs no fussing, but that doesn’t mean a few tweaks here and there aren’t appreciated. After seven decades, the brand is playing around with the proportions—swapping the standard crepe rubber sole for a heavier wedge sole. Dubbed the Desert Coal, it’s subtle yet pairs perfectly with the wide-legged-trouser era we’ve now entered.

Or the other icon of the house, the Wallabee—perhaps, the rare style link from Walter White to Wu Tang Clan, from Wes Anderson to Tyler, The Creator. As comfortable as a sneaker but looking a whole lot more put together, the curiously shaped shoe is now Clarks’ best-selling style. The resurgence is partly due to a slew of new collaborations: Aimé Leon Dore recently reinterpreted them in both snakeskin and rich-shades of fuzzy suede. Of course, they—like so much of ALD’s goods—sold out almost immediately.

But there are still plenty of other wild options available. You can get them in marbled green camo colorway, cut from upholstery fabric or with intricate Japanese Sashiko stitching around the moccasin toe box for a tactile update on the classic shoe. A collaboration with alpine luxury label Moncler reimagines the boot with a rugged Vibram lug outsole and a quilted vamp with metal togs that recalls a ski jacket. And professional footballer Raheem Sterling just put his stamp on the style as well. His design, in a monochromatic olive colorway, swaps out some of the standard suede for ballistic nylon, finished with cord laces and serrated rubber outsole for grippy traction.

Do they look like your regular Wallabees? Nope. But can you instantly recognize them as such? Absolutely. And that’s the point. The same goes for the Trek mule, which takes an old school design (the Trek boot, known for it’s raised center seam running from tongue to toe) and slices off the heel to make a slip-on silhouette that’s become even more popular in our new world of work-from-home. Even sneaker king Ronnie Fieg put his spin on some Clarks, creating a heritage-style runner that you might not take for a pair of Clarks, until you see the tell-tale suede fob and chunky pebbled rubber sole.

It’s a lesson in innovation, thinking differently and not taking things too seriously. And we’ve got to respect that, right? I’ve always been more of a classic desert boot kind of guy, but these funky styles are pushing me to take a risk. Perhaps my Fall style resolution will be to let my shoes make the first impression.