When the Dr. Martens boot first catapulted from a working-class essential to a counter-cultural icon back in the 1960s, the world was pre-internet, pre-MTV, pre-CD, pre-mp3s, pre-mobile phones… hey, they’d only just invented the teenager. In the years before the boot’s birthday, 1st April, 1960, kids just looked like tribute acts to their parents, younger but the same. Rebellion was only just on the agenda for some – for most kids of the day, starved of music, fashion, art and choice, it was not even an option.
But then an unlikely union of two kindred spirits in distinctly different countries ignited a phenomenon.
In Munich, Germany, Dr Klaus Maertens had a garage full of inventions, including a shoe sole almost literally made of air; in Northampton, England, the Griggs family had a history of making quality footwear and their heads were full of ideas. They met, like a classic band audition, through an advert in the classified pages of a magazine. A marriage was born, an icon conceived of innovation and self-expression.
Together they took risks.
They jointly created a boot that defined comfort but was practical, hard-wearing and a design classic. At first, like some viral infection, the so-called 1460 stooped near to the ground, kept a low profile, a quiet revolution.
But then something incredible started to happen.
The postmen, factory workers and transport unions who had initially bought the boot by the thousand, were joined by rejects, outcasts and rebels from the fringes of society.
At first, it was the working-classes; before long it was the masses.
Skinheads were the first subculture to adopt the boot in the early 1960s, spilling out of the East End of London, then across Britain and the world; initially non-racist and obsessive about their fashion, by the time the skinhead movement was corrupted with elements of right-wing extremism, Dr Martens had already morphed into a torchbearer
for a brave new world.
The late 1960s and 1970s saw the boot adopted by – not thrust upon – nearly all the ‘tribes’: Mods, glam, punks, ska, psychobillies, grebos, Goths, industrialists, nu-metal, hardcore, straight-edge, grunge, Britpop…
Then pop started to eat itself.
The internet spread like an epidemic, reaching fifty million users in eighteen months – a feat that took radio forty years. The first mobile phone text was sent in 1992; within three years, email was like oxygen. Everything had changed.
There were no tribes anymore. At least, “not like they used to make ’em.”
You don’t see one tribe fighting another anymore, a haircut does not define a person to four albums by three bands.
The tribe is down to one person.
A one-man army.
The personal revolution manifests itself in a million ways. So-called ‘indie’ and ‘punk’ record labels of the 1970s and 1980s were created to cut out the suits. They were called ‘labels’ because of the round adhesive label smack bang in the middle of the vinyl.
Now, you don’t even need a label.
Record, mix, master and post on the web from your own empire.
Hit the charts from downloads alone.
There is no one left to cut out. It’s all down to you.
Of course, just because we can all now ‘create’, doesn’t mean we are all actually any good. But the cream floats to the top, whatever the mode of transport.
Same with Dr. Martens.
Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.