“If you rebelled against anything in your youth, there’s a good chance you were wearing Dr Martens’ boots as you did it.
Dr Martens’ boots were first introduced to the UK in 1960 – initially embraced by workers, they soon left a huge footprint on style, becoming an iconic, statement brand that survived the fickle fortunes of fashion.
Their success would probably have surprised inventor Klaus Maertens, a German army doctor who alleviated the pain of a skiing accident in 1945 by designing his own shoes with an air-cushioned sole, cleverly fashioned from discarded tyre rubber.
In 1958, a Northampton-based family-run show manufacturer called Griggs bought the rights to make the DM brand and, after Anglicising the name to avoid post-war discrimination and adapting the design, Doctor Martens hit the market.
Launched on April 1 1960, the classic 1460 eight-eyelet boot was aimed at workers who spent all day on their feet.
The range grew, was branded ‘Airwair’ and was given a helping hand in the style stakes by The Who’s Pete Townshend, who adopted them in 1966 as a reaction to the foppish clothes in vogue during the 1960s.
“I was sick of dressing up as a Christmas tree in flowing robes that got in the way of my guitar playing,” he said, “so I thought I’d move on to utility wear.”
With added bounce on stage and a nod to his working class background, Pete furthered the DM cause with his 1975 film of rock opera Tommy, which featured Elton John in seven-league, gigantic DM boots which stood four and a half feet tall like airwair stilts.
By the 1970s, Dr Martens were the footwear of subcultures, adopted by many on-the-fringes groups from punks to skinheads, mods to rockers, psychobillies to goths.
Keen to disassociate the brand with 1970s football thuggery, Dr Martens approached the Football League with a sponsorship deal in 1984 but was it was rejected due to its ‘bovver boy’ image. A later shirt sponsorship deal with West Ham United Football Club built bridges and Dr Martens reputation escaped unscathed.
Punks unwittingly helped with brand development when they customised their boots with pins and paint and there are now more than 65,000 variations of DM, from glitter leather to neon, Union Jack design to floral fantasy boots.
I bought my first pair of DMs when I was 15: I’d wanted some for years, but doggedly refused to buy any that were available in Norwich, instead saving up to take the train to London to buy something more exotic and, crucially, unavailable to Norwich-based would-be plagiarists.
My boots boasted the least number of holes available – I am quite short and would look ridiculous in 10-hole or 14-hole boots and 20-hole boots would reach to my thighs – and were patent black leather. Hugely expensive at the time, I wore those boots to death, although you simply can’t wear DMs to death because they are immortal. In the Tardis of my house, somewhere that first pair of DMs are still going strong – I imagine they will outlive me by some distance.
The enduring joy of Dr Martens’ boots is that they have one foot firmly in the world of fashion and the other in the land of function, meaning that looking good doesn’t necessarily mean hobbling yourself with shoes that couldn’t be less comfortable if they were made of red-hot iron.
This week, a brand new Dr Martens store opened in central Norwich – the largest of its kind in the UK, stocking 71 lines of clothing and accessories and a staggering 254 lines of footwear.
Amy Nelson, UK retail marketing manager for Dr Martens, said: “We’re delighted to be opening our largest store in Norwich. The Dr Martens culture is a perfect fit for a rich, vibrant city such as Norwich.
“The styles and trends that people wear in the city, combined with an unrivalled shopping experience, vast student population and one of the UK’s best music and arts scenes, make it an ideal fit for the Dr Martens brand.”
The 2,000 sq m store on Castle Street will have an industrial feel with exposed wooden floors, brick walls and warehouse-style lighting and will include a ‘Made In England’ zone to highlight the products created at the DM factory in Northamptonshire.
It will have a photo booth similar to the brand’s Carnaby Street store and a leather sofa in Dr Martens’ classic Oxblood leather tone where customers can relax while listening to their favourite tracks on the in-store jukebox.
With their trademark yellow stitching, thick soles and ever-increasing eyelets, it looks as if Dr Martens will be a shoe-in for fashionistas and fans of functional footwear for many years to come.”
By Stacia Briggs