Culture

Heritage Icons: The A-Z of Clarks Originals

22 April 2021

Explore the near-two centuries history of British footwear institution, Clarks Originals, in this definitive A-Z guide.

Heritage Icons: The A-Z of Clarks Originals
Shoemakers since 1825, Clarks Originals are a case study in brand staying power.

Constantly evolving and adapting to position themselves firmly on the tip of global culture and style, Clarks mean something to almost everyone - from Kingston to Tokyo, football players to hip-hop icons.

Unpacking a legacy 200 years in the making, join us on an international journey as we unpick the legacy of a heritage icon with the A-Z of Clarks Originals.

Collage of historical imagery of Alice Clark - Clarks Originals
A is for... Alice Clark

Suffragette, early feminist icon, and original member of the Clarks company board in 1904, Alice Clark set the tone for the pioneering spirit which has become the bedrock of Clarks Originals' modus operandi.

Collage of images containing the Desert Trek Bank Robbber shoe and insignia
B is for.... Bank Robber

Testament to the style's bona fide icon status in Jamaica, the Clarks Desert Trek was re-baptised 'Bank Robber' on the Caribbean island. A colloquial nod to the style's hiker insignia - which could just as easily depict a bank robber making their getaway with a bag full of cash - this regional affinity for Clarks' product is the reflection of a unique transnational love affair like no other.

Collage of imagery from Charles F Stead factory and branding details
C is for... Charles F Stead

Longtime partner, Charles F Stead has supplied Clarks Originals with the finest suede since the early 1950s. The family-owned tannery on Stead Street in Leeds remains committed to the forgotten artisanality of suede supply, using centuries of experience to deliver suedes that celebrate traditional treatments and techniques.

Collage of the iconic Clarks Originals Desert Boot
D is for... Desert Boot

First sold in Australia in the late 1940s, the Desert Boot drew inspiration from styles worn by military men in the Desert climates of South Africa during WWII. First finding its footing Down Under as the UK arm of the business were unsure of the style's suitability for the western market, the Clarks Desert Boot has become of the company's most revered heritage styles. A close cousin of the Chukka Boot, the Desert Boot combines form and functionality in design and material makeup, with reversed leather uppers, exposed stitching, and two-eyelet detail.

Collage of Clarks Originals content published by Esquire Magazine
E is for... Esquire

A meeting of menswear institutions: Esquire editor-du-jour, Oskar Schoefler, was introduced to the aforementioned Clarks Desert Book at the Chicago Shoe Fair in 1949. A leading authority in men's style, Schoefler immediately saw the promise of the silhouette as a staple of men's casual dress in the pre-sneaker era. Taken with the opportunity to further cement Esquire's position as international gatekeeper of gentlemen's fashion, Schoefler joined forces with Clarks to launch the silhouette in the US market and the rest is history.

Collage of detail shots of the iconic Clarks Originals product fob with brand logo embossed
F is for... Fob

A bedrock of the Clarks Originals experience, the signature branded fob accompanies every pair like a stamp of approval from the founders themselves. Iterated over the decades in a kaleidoscope of colours and materials, the fob marks each Clarks' product as iconic, authentic, and individual.

Collage of images of Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan
G is for... Ghostface Killah

An unlikely pairing - which catapulted Clarks Originals to the forefront of international style and subculture - Ghostface "the Wallabee champ" Killah frequently referenced the slip-on leather style in songs and on off-label mixtapes.

Collage of images containing hip-hop icons wearing Clarks Originals products
H is for... Hip-Hop

The Wu-Tang cosign positioned Clarks as a cornerstone of 90s streetwear, but the brand's enduring relevance in hip-hop has stood the test of time. Consecutive generations of rap talent - running the gamut from Kanye West to MF Doom - have proudly endorsed Clarks as a stalwart of style and culture; a quiet beacon of quality and consistency.

Collage of Ivy League schools in the US and the style codes associated with them
I is for... Ivy League

Further testament to the versatility which underpins Clarks' DNA, staple silhouettes became integral elements of the collegiate wardrobe on both sides of the Atlantic through the 1960s. When the Ivy League trend made its way east in the 1990s, the popularity of Clarks with the Japanese consumer sky rocketed; once again connecting and contextualising opposing facets of culture-then and culture-now across geographies.

Collage of Clarks Originals product and their popularity in Jamaica
J is for... Jamaica

From the frenetic cities of the far east to the golden islands of the Caribbean, perhaps no locale's affinity for Clarks better encapsulates the brand's international relevance than Jamaica. An undisputed staple of Jamaican menswear, Clarks have celebrated this enduring clash of British and Jamaican ideals and aesthetics, partnering with local talent on product collaborations and campaigns throughout the years and even laid the foundation for a Jamaican-inspired Desert Trek release in collaboration with streetwear label, Patta in 2019.

Collage of Clarks Originals Khan silhouette
K is for... Khan

Lesser known than the Desert Boot, the contemporary Khan silhouette offers a lower-profile take on the classic style. Featuring the same causal outlook as the Desert Boot, the Khan sits closer to a brogue in stature; reimagining the much-loved details of the boot for a below-the-ankle audience.

Collage of Liam Gallagher x Clarks Originals collaborations with Pretty Green
L is for... Liam Gallagher

Both undeniably original and both pioneers in their respective fields, two British icons came together when Liam Gallagher's brand Pretty Green partnered with Clarks to deliver a series of reinvented Desert Boots. All imbued with Gallagher's statement Britpop-meets-football-casual aesthetic, the legends collided with a hyper-premium materials palette and devil-may-care sensibility.

Collage of Clarks Originals collaborator MF Doom from DOOM documentary
M is for... MF Doom

A Clarks Originals pioneer, the late MF Doom was an avid fan and collaborator; an extension of the fierce passion hip-hop figureheads have felt for the brand since the 1980s (see G and H). Featuring in a short brand film entitled 'This Is Not Doom', MF Doom's legacy and affinity for Clarks - much like his music - will live on forever.

Collage of Nathan Clark portraits
N is for... Nathan Clark

Great-grandson of Clarks founder, Nathan Clark was the driving force behind Clarks' early international expansion. Taking the brand to Australia before setting his sights on the promise of the American Dream, Clarks Originals' international gravitas can be traced back to Nathan's calculated risks and determination in the brand's potential.

Collage of development timeline of Clarks Originals logo
O is for... Originals

A series of refined and well-crafted Originals silhouettes - the Desert Boot, Desert London, Wallabee, Desert Trek, and Trigenic Flex - are the bedrock of Clarks' success; each style original and wholly authentic.

Collage of heritage news coverage of Clarks' innovative Polyveldt material
P is for... Polyveldt

Introduced in 1974, Clarks' patented Polyveldt material heralded a new era in durable footwear. True to their pioneering spirit, the lightweight and shock-absorbent material was introduced as an antidote to the hyper-disposable consumerist culture beginning to emerge through the 70s and 80s. So sure of the material makeup, Clarks released a series of no-nonsense ads, attesting 'In times like these when nothing lasts, Polyveldt is revolutionary. It lasts.'

Collage of images detailing quality control measures and processes at Clarks Originals
Q is for... Quality

An international beacon of industry-leading design and manufacturing, Clarks' legacy as craftsmen is legend. The quality speaks for itself.

Collage of Raheem Sterling collaboration with Clarks
R is for... Raheem Sterling

Born in the Maverley district of Kingston, footballer Raheem Sterling partnered with Clarks on a limited edition Wallabee dedicated to the diversity of Jamaica. Featuring the island nation's motto, 'out of the many, one people,' the partnership saw Clarks and Sterling establish an initiative with Maverley Primary and Junior High School to give back to the local community where Raheem discovered his love of the beautiful game.

Collage of Clarks x Supreme collaborations and campaigns
S is for... Supreme

Longtime partners, Clarks and Supreme have iterated iconic Clarks models in myriad forms over the year, placing the British footwear institution firmly on the tip of the global stylezeitgeist.

Collage of Tor range product from Clarks Originals
T is for... Tor

Visible from the Clarks UK headquarters, Glastonbury's famous Tor has transcended its status as a local mythological symbol to become a key feature in Clarks' branding for years. From the Tor Run to the Tor Match, the Tor lineage has even made a splash stateside off the back of a collaborative outing with New York streetwear label, Kith.

Collage of the Clarks Desert Book and early news coverage dubbing the shoe 'unnecessarily handsome'
U is for... Unnecessarily Handsome

The original tagline for the Clarks Desert Boot. 'Unnecessarily Handsome' ran in newspaper and magazine ads across the world as the silhouette became ubiquitous with men's style through the 40s and 50s.

Collage of Clarks x Vybz Kartel collaborations and campaigns
V is for... Vybz Kartel

Jamaican reggae and dancehall legend, Vybz Kartel, has been a Clarks collaborator for years. Putting pen to paper, Vybz' 2010 single 'Clarks' and the accompanying music video is an audiovisual document of the island's love for the brand. 'Everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks.'

Collage of the iconic Clarks Originals Wallabee and early ads featuring the shoe
W is for... Wallabee

Developed in Ireland, the moccasin-inspired Wallabee was launched in the 1960s, but found contemporary footing in the early 1990s when co-opted by the New York hip-hop scene. To this day the Clarks Wallabee remains a benchmark of effortless flex which forgoes the folly of hype for something with more cultural staying power.

Collage of END. x Clarks Originals footwear collaboration projects
X is for... x END.

Proud Clarks collaborators, END. have partnered with the footwear experts four times and counting. From the glitched-out pixelated camo Wallabees to the Trigenic Flex inspired by the maple interior details in our flagship stores, each END. x Clarks outing combines contemporary style with centuries of craftsmanship and experience.

Collage of ads and products documenting Clarks Originals 196 years in the British shoe business
Y is for... (196) Years

Shoemakers since 1825, the Clarks journey began with Cyrus and James Clark crafting a single slipper from sheepskin offcuts, kickstarting a legacy which would generate 22,000 archive styles and counting.

Collage of key moments of product and material innovation in footwear by Clarks Originals
Z is for... Zag

Pioneers and innovators, from the Cyrus and James first sample to a global footwear institution, the Clarks' mantra has been resolute: when others zig, Clarks zag.

writerEND.
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