They may have been around since Noah herded his flock into the Arc and they may have been the only item to appear on Miley Cyrus’ body in the clip for her track “Wrecking Ball” but Doc Martens have a curious place in the history of iconic objects. I think they may be a bit like sex as each new generation seems to discover them.
Their most recent store in London’s Covent Garden bears testamony to their enduring appeal. It is stuffed wall to wall with English and Euro Students, visitors from the Far East and new hippys all trying on the classic pairs but also the current seasons crop – reimagined icons – of “designer” versions. What they will be assured of is that they will wearing a practical day to day and somewhat timeless, icon.
Whilst I have enduring affection for Dr Martens, I have, in fact, only ever had one pair. They were a simple black low classic shoe design that lasted me years and were amazingly comfortable. They were a present from the company (R. Griggs Company Ltd the owner of the “Dr Martens” name) following their opening in the early 1990’s of their then flagship store in Covent Garden – next to St Paul’s Church – that I had helped them with image rights clearances. The same store is now occupied by the Oakley.
There are several distinctive elements to a pair of Dr. Martens, in addition to the yellow sole stitching, including a primary asset, enjoyed by the wearer, the air-cushioned “AirWair” soles.
Perhaps ironically given the status his boots and shoes have achieved in being seen as as an iconic British made product, Dr Klaus Märtens – the eponymous Dr Martens – was a doctor in the German army in the Second World War.
In 1945, following sustaining an ankle injury Dr Martens found the regular army boots too uncomfortable and so designed various improvements including the addition of softer leather and an air-cushioned sole. He incorporated his designs into a version of his famous shoes post war. In 1947, together with an old college friend, Dr. Herbert Funck, the pair set up business in Germany to manufacture the shoes – finding initial successful market with a middle-aged female market! With an increase in sales and the establishment of a factory in Munich in 1952 the pair looked for export markets.
In 1959, UK footwear manufacturer, R. Griggs Group Ltd., licensed production rights, made slight variations including the yellow sole stitching and trademarked the name “AirWair”. On 1st April 1960 Griggs launch the first Dr. Martens boots to be made in the United Kingdom, known by the style number “1460” and produced at their factory in Wollaston, (Northants UK) Initial success came from supplying postal workers and the police forces.
This was the iconic 1460 boot – now an essential piece of classic English wardrobe.
I really like the 1460 Crazy Horse in brown – check out the following AMAZON link
We’ll all be familiar with the affection held for “DMs” amongst various music based sub-cultures including Mods, Skinheads, Punks and latterly in the mid-1990’s, Grunge. However, as with all such youth trend linked products, fortunes varied. Turnover for the group in 1999 was $412m falling to $127m in 2006. Narrowly avoiding bankruptcy in 2003, the company ceased UK production and moved all production to The Far East. However, in 2004, a moment of inspiration struck and Dr. Martens started manufacturing a “Vintage” range based on original production specifications in small numbers from the Wollaston factory.
Worldwide sales revived and the Company was hailed for its turnaround achievement. In October 2013, R Griggs Group Ltd, was acquired by Permira, a private equity group, for £300m a deal that included all rights to the Dr Martens brand. Griggs continues to be based at Wollaston (Northamptonshire, UK).
A statistic worth noting is that over 100 million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes were sold between 1960 to 2010!
Well that’s done it I am getting a new pair – join me by clicking the following Amazon link – I think these Dr Marten Adrian Tassel’s are not only great looking shoes they carry aloft the fine tradition of Dr Martens.
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Image credits with grateful thanks R Griggs Group Limited – Dr Martens