Photographed (from l-r, top-to-bottom): Green ‘Weaver’ (£119); Navy Wallabees (£119)Pink Wallabees (£119); Brown Leather Brogues (£95)Neutral Desert Boots (£95)Pink Suede Shoes (£109)Dark Brown Desert Boots (£95)Off-White Trigenic Evo (£129); Beige Wallabees (£119)Navy Desert Boots (£159); Green Trigenic Flex (£109)

There’s a reason why, for so many British men, Clarks is associated with September, new pencil cases and that weird machine that measures your feet. But search beyond the kids section and you’ll discover a British footwear brand that’s produced more than its fair share of classics. From Clarks’ game-changing desert boot to its Wallabees, which were worn by by rap’s founding fathers and Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Clarks’ archive of over 22,000 styles contains something for every man.

Clarks is one of British industry’s great success stories, a homegrown brand that’s still headquartered in the village of Street in Somerset, where it was founded in 1825. The story goes that James Clark was working at the tannery owned by his brother, Cyrus, when he had a eureka moment. He noticed that sheepskin offcuts were piling up among the rugs they produced, and decided to put the scraps to good use. A few stitches and experiments later, the sheepskin slipper was born.

That same spirit of innovation and craftsmanship persists in the company. Perhaps one of the most surprising things about a brand that sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes a year, is that every single pair of Clarks shoes begins its life with a last (a foot-shaped form) carved by hand from a single block of hornbeam.

“For the price, the craftsmanship is unbeatable,” says Thread stylist Alexander McCalla. “Clarks makes shoes that last, because that’s what it’s done for 200 years. It’s classic but still stylish and because it’s been around so long, it’s got something to suit everyone. It has lots of timeless styles, in colours that won’t frighten the horses, but it’s also come up with things like the Trigenic range, which is more casual and street. So any guy can find a pair of Clarks that’s right for him.”

Particularly a pair of Clarks’ signature desert boots. Designed by Nathan Clark (the great-grandson of James), the name is more than just branding. As a young infantryman on a tour of Burma, he observed fellow soldiers wearing sand-coloured ankle boots. He discovered that these lightweight suede shoes were made by the cobblers of Cairo’s bazaar and, blessed with the family’s nose for a new shoe style, he sent sketches of the boots back to Blighty.

When he eventually got back to Street, he began cutting and creating his prototype. Senior figures in the company didn’t think it would sell, but Nathan persisted and, in 1950, launched the first version. The style Clarks sells today – and which has been emulated by every brand that makes shoes – is still only a few tweaks away from Nathan’s original. “Everything about the desert boot, from its low profile to the crepe sole and suede upper, it all just works,” says Alexander. “They’re versatile enough to match with any outfit and the price point also makes them a really accessible option.”

Last year, in further evidence that Clarks isn’t content to rest on its laurels, it appointed Jason Beckley as Chief Brand Officer. Having worked at Dunhill, Alexander McQueen and Nike, he’s bringing a forward-thinking approach to the brand’s design, that stays true to its heritage but also embraces the sense of innovation that Clarks was founded on. “It’s a really exciting time for Clarks,” says Alexander. “And more importantly, for anyone who wears Clarks.”

Four of our favourite Clarks styles

Desert boots (£95)

"When you think of desert boots, you think of Clarks,” says Alexander. “Clarks invented them and if you’re after a pair, you can't do better. The desert boot to Clarks is like jeans to Levi's."

Black brogues (£95)

"You can always trust Clarks to have wardrobe staples covered. These brogues are perfect for dressing things up."

Wallabees (£109)

“These Wallabees are finished with the crepe sole, which means they’re a comfortable choice for when you're out and about. The shade of brown is punchy and helps to elevate a neutral outfit."

Trigenic Flex (£109)

"The Trigenic Flex shows that Clarks does sporty shoes just as well as its smarter styles. These have, understandably, grown hugely popular since their release in 2016. They're accessible, while still grabbing the attention of the most avid sneakerhead."

 

Words: Tess Harold

 

Shop all Clarks