by Caroline Kinneberg
Clarks’ original Desert Boots have been appropriated throughout history by a surprisingly diverse range of subcultures. A member of the Clarks family first designed them in 1950, inspired by a pair of boots spotted at a bazaar in Cairo, Egypt. Initially adopted by off-duty army officers, the shoes became an icon of Britain’s Mods in the ’60s. They took off in Paris when protesting students in 1968 wore them and the classic boots have also long been cult among rude boys and reggae stars in Jamaica.
For the style’s 65th anniversary, and to celebrate 190 years of Clarks—a family-owned brand based in the rolling hills of Somerset, England—the Desert Boot is undergoing another appropriation. This time, 14 artists and designers have reinterpreted the style in a project called Clarks: Rebooted. Marc Quinn, Lee Broom, Frank Bowling, Rene Gonzalez and Amy Stephens are just some of the names taking part.
Filippo Tattoni-Marcozzi, the curator who spearheaded the initiative, tells CH, “When I first talked to Clarks about the project, the words ‘iconic,’ ‘British,’ ‘design,’ ‘democratic’ and ‘street style’ kept coming up. I figured these must be values designers and artists share with the boots.” He shipped creatives he hoped to work with a giant shoebox that held a pair of Desert Boots, the flat-packed elements that make up a pair, information about HALO (a landmine removal organization partnering with the project) and the book Clarks in Jamaica to get their thought process rolling.
“I approached artists who have a similar attention to street style and culture in their work. I also talked to artists from different generations, since the shoes have touched so many different eras; Frank’s in his 70s for example, while Rene is still a student. And I chose to involve artists who’ve made London their hub, but who aren’t necessarily British,” says Tattoni-Marcozzi.
Two designs per month will be produced in a limited edition of 250 pairs. Running through October, the project will start in March with Lee Broom’s mod-inspired Desert Rocker and Frank Bowling’s painterly Desert Frank. The original prototypes will be on display at Design Shanghai, Salone del Mobile in Milan and Frieze in New York before returning to London, where original artwork by each artist/designer will be sold at auction in October 2015. Proceeds from the auction as well as 5% of sales from the limited editions will benefit HALO.
Artists were asked to consider the work of HALO in creating their designs. Alexandra Llewellyn’s shoes, which reflect her signature backgammon designs, suggests that each step in life is a gamble, while Bob and Roberta Smith’s contribution is a walking peace campaign for art over war.
Artist Thomas J. Price tells CH, “The most difficult part of creating my design was relating something known by so many people to my personal practice, and also acknowledging the work HALO does.” His shoes link to his body-based sculptural art and interest in historic sculpture. He adds, “I think the shoe has been appropriated by so many different cultures because the design is so simple. It lets you impose your identity on it instead of it defining you.”
Clarks: Rebooted launches March 2015.
Images courtesy of Camron PR