The Dr. Martens shoe is a simple yet endlessly stylish piece that’s an essential part of every fashionista’s wardrobe. Blending effortlessly into any outfit, it’s a trait that’s been appreciated and embraced by celebrities across the world. There’s no style the British brand doesn’t suit. But where did it all begin?
Dr. Martens stand for a sense of self expression. Authentic characters. An individual style with a united spirit. From simple beginnings, the brand found themselves favoured by various subcultures, spread across an array of scenes and movements, becoming one of the most relevant brands of the 21st century.
The Dr. Martens story begins in Northamptonshire, an area of Britain commonly associated with the world’s finest footwear. In 1901. The Griggs family, from Wollaston, found themselves at the centre of the English shoe industry with their company, R. Griggs & Co, earning a reputation for being the ‘go-to’ brand for heavy duty work boots.
The brand’s innovative approach to shoemaking came from unexpected sources. In post-Second World War Munich, Dr. Klaus Martens (the name’s origin) was a 25-year-old soldier recovering from a broken foot. To help with the recovery, Klaus created an air-cushioned sole, as opposed to the traditional leather hard sole widely favoured at the time. Through the makeshift use of a salvaged cobbler’s last and a needle, Klaus managed to create a prototype of the future fashion essential, which he showed to a friend from University, Dr. Herbert Funk, who was a mechanical engineer. The two friends used disused military supplies in the creation of their boots – old army car tyres and other military uniforms were useful, leather officers’ trousers in particular – one pair of trousers sourced enough material to create two pairs of boots. Formal production began in 1947, and in the years that followed, Dr. Martens gradually found its feet, becoming popular with older women. By 1959, the brand had found itself featured across the pages of overseas magazines.
Meanwhile back in the United Kingdom, the Griggs family shoe business was now being overseen by Bill, the third generation of the family, assisted by his brothers Ray and Colin, and his son Max. Bill stumbled across Dr. Martens purely by chance, where the brand’s advert caught his eye, drawn in by the air-cushioned sole, an innovative quality for the period.
A license was acquired and Dr. Martens’ as they’re recognised today began to take shape. An altered heel was introduced, alongside the brand’s distinctive yellow welt stitch, with a two tone grooved sole edge and a custom and bespoke unique sole pattern. It was at this point the brand took on the ‘Airwair’ brand, arriving with a black and yellow heel loop, which featured the brand name and slogan, “With Bouncing Soles.” Adding a personal approach to the business, this slogan was written in Grigg’s distinctive handwriting. On April 1st 1960, the eight holed 1460 Dr. Martens boot was born.
With the arrival of the 1960s came a culture of change and social revolution. And with these came a wave of unprecedented and often flamboyant fashion, which certainly stood juxtaposed against the functional work boot, which the brand served as in its first few years in circulation. Dr. Martens were worn by the likes of postmen and factory workers, and were akin to that of a £2 work boot, purchased by Britain’s working class. Suddenly, the brand’s popularity exploded into British subcultures.
Dr. Martens could be found on the feet of ska-loving skinheads, who found themselves at the helm of the British working class. The first big name to wear Dr. Martens, however, was The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend, who bought a pair while up north in 1967, citing how the boots “released me from psychedelia and all the nonsense that went with it.” Known for his lively stage antics, Dr. Martens would find their way into various live shots of the frontman as he jumped and kicked his way through set after set, with Townshend even writing about his boots in “Uniforms”, crooning “wear your braces around your seat, Dr. Martens on your feet.” The boots symbolised both his pride to be from a working class background and his rebellious attitude.
The Dr. Martens boot was picked up by various British youth subcultures, spread across glam, punk, two tone and early Goth, with each movement subverting the style of the last. One thing was a constant though; the boots were a fierce symbol of anti-establishment and self-expression, at the heart of British youth culture. A product of their environment, youth culture rose with the presence of anti-government riots and social resentment rich within the period. And with this came more subcultures, with psychobilly, grebos and scooter boys all rising in the wake of the unrest.
In the 1990s, Dr. Martens 1460 became synonymous with ‘festival culture’, blending effortlessly into the Britpop uniform. When the millennium came around and shortly after the brand’s fourth decade in production, sales dwindled to the point of all but one UK factory closing to prevent the brand plunging into bankruptcy. Dr. Martens rode its second wave in 2003, when fashion designers from all over the world put their own spin on the iconic 1460 boot. Just four years later, the brand returned to its roots with the original factory on Cobbs Lane in Northampton creating Dr. Martens Originals by hand once again. In 2010, the brand celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, where throughout five decades, celebrities, musicians and revolutionaries from all walks of life have shared an appreciation for the brand.
Pictured above, Dr. Martens celebrate their British heritage with the “Made in England” range, spread across a number of styles in an array of finishes, ranging from mat, textured pebble leather to a high shine arcadia leather.
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