I’ve just bought a pair of Clarks shoes. There, I thought I’d spit it out fast rather than get to the bald, some might say shocking truth via some prevaricating yarn. In fact, I’ll be more specific. They are Raspin Brogues – navy suedes, that happen to be some of the most comfortable and inexpensive shoes I have ever bought.
Raspin, I subsequently discover, can mean either the sound a cat omits by way of asking to be fed (a series of short sharp meows), or a hard working person who is dedicated to their job; I’ll assume the nomenclaturist at Clarks had the latter definition in mind when aiming to get a handle on this robust pair of shoes. Sold as ‘mens formal shoes’ incorporating Clarks’ ‘XL Extralight’ technology, ie a lightweight, springy white rubber sole and heal, they were bought for summer casual wear. A semi smart alternative to the ubiquitous trainer and those strappy trekking sandals, all velcro and nylon, that make everyone’s feet appear three times the size they really are. The uppers are blue suede brogue and the linings are leather. I’ll admit I wasn’t taken with the slight distressing around the toe caps and heals but I figured suede being suede they’d soon look distressed after I’d spilled a few pints of lager on them. So what the hell.
They are supportive and comfortable enough for a hike in the woods. Light on the beach, and look the part in the bar. In fact, my Raspins, like so many other styles with the ‘XL Extralight’ soles are ideal travel shoes; they bend any which way and come in at just 730 grams, about 25% less than the equivalent pair of trainers.
Writing as one who has been shod these past 30 years by the likes of Bass Weejun, Churches, Florsheim, Justin, Loewe, McAfee, Pollini, Sebago, and Walk-Over (you’ll appreciate a definite tilt towards US brands) it was something of a shock to find myself scanning the racks of heavily discounted footwear; it was sale time. Instead of the calm clubby, almost scholarly atmosphere of my usual shoe shops I found myself fighting for space with people who thought nothing of pushing anyone and anything out of their way to grab a bargain.
My renewed interest in Clarks (it’s some 30 years since my last pair, described by then girlfriend as ‘omelettes’ that were equally as effective at retaining foot odour as they were comfortable) was kindled one rainy afternoon. I’d ducked into a Clarks doorway with the aim of relighting a Hoyo du Monterrey Epicure Number 2 (a task that mustn’t be rushed). I was in the market for a pair of suede chukka boots, a quest I undertake every three or four years, and was taken by a pair in the window. They had that pre-distressed look too, but with hefty Commando style soles, and a price tag of £85, they demanded to be taken seriously. And the more I looked the more my curiosity was engaged. In fairness not every style would have won the approval of St.Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers. Yet there were enough, understated and eminently wearable casual shoes, and almost all below £100, to make me give Clarks, a byword for high street, a second thought.
It was my godson, Alfie, who alerted me to the fact that Clarks shoes have a near fanatical following on the other side of the pond. In Jamaica Clarks, particularly the classic crepe soled desert boot, have the sort of iconic status other manufacturers dream of. In fact, they been the go-to footwear for fashionable Jamaicans since the rise of the rude boy in the 60s. Such is their regard they have been eulogized on disc by a raft of reggae stars from Dillinger to Dennis Alcapone.
In 2010 MC Vybz Kartel and Friends featuring dancehall ragamuffin, Popcaan, charted with the tune Clarks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_Mr7j4nNNs (“everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks”) and a couple of years later this Jamaican obsession was documented in Al Fingers’ book – Clarks In Jamaica.
The brand’s popularity is such that they once became the subject of a crime wave. So much so that any rude boy in the dancehall found, during a raid by the JA police, to be wearing a pair of Clarks was assumed to have stolen stolen them.
While the Clarks designers endeavor to keep up with shoe fashion at the backbone of the West Country company is honest to goodness affordable quality. It’s been a touchstone since the firm was founded, in 1825 in the Somerset village of Street, by the brothers James and Cyrus Clark. It’s why generations of parents take their children to Clarks. They didn’t have the magical ‘fluoroscope’ foot X-Ray device that some shoe shops enticed shoppers with half a century ago, but they did develope the ‘footguage’ a device for measuring the length and width of young feet correctly.
Trying on my Raspin Brogues the young salesman turned and asked me if I required the standard or wider fitting? I can’t remember the last time I was given the option, unless it was at another Clarks store in another life.
jonathan futrell / http://www.goodgear2go.com