Here’s an article that originally appeared in the last issue of Proper. Seeing as we’ve got some fairly exciting stuff going on with Padmore and Barnes (that’s the place that made a lot of the classic Clarks stuff between 1964 and 1987), and have just taken stock of some pretty classy shoes from Clarks themselves, we thought the time was right to republish it.
So here you go: Nigel talking us through his top five shoes from the masters of casual comfort...
1 – The Oberon
The Oberon is number one because it’s the most distinctive shoe Clarks have ever made. I remember my sister’s boyfriend had a pair in ’76. He used to have an orange Allegro and he’d wear Wrangler semi-flared trousers. They were just a very standard man’s leisure shoe. They were kind of geeky, but they were very distinctive and they just stuck in my memory.
When me and Steve started Oi Polloi we found some pictures of a pair in a K Shoes catalogue and we realised how good they were. I suppose they’re the ultimate geography teacher shoe. In the 70s geography teachers were sneered upon, but in the 80s they were copied.
To look at them, they’re prehistoric, as well as sort of being futuristic. They look like cavemen could have worn them, they look handmade even though they were mass produced.
I also like them because they’re named after Oberon, king of the underworld. The logo in the heel of Clarks shoes is the Tor in Glastonbury, which is meant to be one of the entrances to the underworld. You can see what the guys working at Clarks in the 70s were thinking – it looked like an otherworldly shoe.
2 – The Odessa
The Odessa has a polyveldt sole unit, the same as the Oberon, but its upper is more like a Wallabee, but without a seam. If someone like Snoop Dogg or Richard Ashcroft was transported back to the early 70s, but they still had that cocky, assured swagger, they’d wear these.
I got a pair of these back when we were bringing stuff in from eBay. Luckily I kept hold of them. They can’t be worn because the sole will crack and fall apart, but they’ve held it together for photographs. When I showed the guy at the Clarks archive he was confused as to why they hadn’t fallen to apart.
I never saw anyone wear these. They were in an old catalogue, so they must have been a good seller at the time, but apart from mine, I’ve never seen another pair.
3 – The Natureveldt
The Natureveldt is the early 80s version of the Oberon. It’s less prehistoric, and is more like your granddad’s shoes. It’s a shoe that was worn by people in Manchester at that time. Lads, as opposed to the old retired guys, were wearing it because it wasn’t what everyone was wearing at the time—they were wearing it as a two fingers up to anybody else, really.
It’s an anti-establishment shoe—it’s not a black brogue, it’s not to go to work in, it’s not to do anything in—it’s a leisure shoe. That sort of thing has always bounced around in my head. I remember my mum saying that casual stuff was three times the price of smart stuff. I was like, “Okay, I want some of them then.” They’re for the man who doesn’t have to do anything; they’re not uptight like the guy who’d wear a pair of Bass Weejuns. They seemed to fit with Manchester, and they seemed to fit with this thing that was going on at that time.
I picked my Natureveldts up from Clarks in Stockport in 1987. Even though they came out in ’82, it was only by ’87 that it clicked and they made sense for me. They looked like Dinky hovercrafts. If you look at the front, it’s flat, it’s round and it’s sleek at the same time. They’re not big and bulbous like a pair of shelltoes from the year 2000. They’re a chunky comfort shoe, but they’re sleek. Put a pair on and they’re like a relaxed space-shuttle, whereas an Air-Max would be a stressed space-shuttle.
These comfort shoes or corrective shoes are the opposite of what people think is cool, which annoys people as they don’t understand them. But in real terms, they just look good with a pair of tapered jeans and a sweatshirt.
4 – Elk-skin four-eyelet Wallabees
With acid house everyone was into Wallabees. We’d seen old ladies in the Lake District trekking about in them, but they were a million miles away from what people in a nightclub would be wearing. And yet, they were a hippy looking shoe, and people at the raves started thinking about hippy ideals—beads… peace and love… comfy feet—the last thing you wanted if you went to a party was uncomfortable feet.
The funny thing about Wallabees is that the copies are the ones that everyone had first. There was a shop in London called Mish Mash that got on the news because there was a queue 400 people long trying to buy these fake Wallabees, because they were the only place in London that had them. No one had heard of Clarks Wallabees, no one had heard of Wallabees, they just wanted these pasty shoes with the crepe soles. You could get them in Affleck’s too. I went along and got a pair of pink ones or pale green ones or something.
And then Aspecto got the real Wallabees in. They were four times the price, but yeah, they did look better. And this is where it gets a little hazy with the Wallabee. I know that Lance Clark got Padmore & Barnes to make his Wallabees for Clarks, and that was sometime in the mid-60s, but when we first got Wallabees in Manchester they weren’t Clarks, they were just called ‘Wallabees – Made by Padmore & Barnes’. And then somewhere around ’91 or ’92 Clarks Wallabees started to reappear in Clarks shops.
So by that point everyone had got these Wallabees, so I was like, “As if I’m going to want a pair of Wallabees now.” But in Selfridges there was five pairs of Wallabees, all with different uppers. I wish to this day that I bought all five, but I didn’t. I bought a pair of low-tops with four eyelets that were made out of elk skin. I thought they were amazing—nobody else had them and I’ve never seen another pair to this day.
Really these shoes should be number one, for what they did for me and my life. I went to see Hawkwind in 1991 whilst wearing these and a pair of brown Levi’s cords. Anyway, I was looking at my shoes, and then I looked at the stage, and I suddenly realized that the stage had been set out like a native American camp. There were three tepees, each with a member of the band in, and in the middle of the floor there was a Pendleton rug with a red metal flake drum kit sat on top, like a campfire. I looked at my shoes again and I was there, in the desert. So I stopped selling trainers and jeans and went to America to find magic and moccasins.
5 - The Pembridge
I bought a pair of these in New York when my mate took me with him to watch his band Doves play in America in 1998. While they were all sound checking and stuff, I went wandering about. Clarks are big in the States, but they have slightly different stock. So I went into the shop and they had the Wallabee and the Desert Boot and then the Pembridge was sat there. It was like a Desert Trek, without the seam.
A few guys at the time, like Andy Votel and Rick Myers were wearing Birkenstock shoes to go against the grain. Some people were wearing Birkenstock sandals, so these lads thought they’d get the shoes because they’re so out of order. They wore baggy suit jackets and baggy cords and these Birkenstock shoes, it was a great look, but because they were mates of mine I couldn’t do what they were doing. These shoes were similar, but they were my take on it.
The Natalie would definitely be in the top ten. It’s kind of like a marathon running version of a Wallabee. It’s like it’s had its suspension lowered. That crepe goes up the front and the back, and I’ve got early memories of them feeling like Ali Babar’s slippers, but they’re a great, great English moccasin. We’ve got something nice in the pipeline with the Natalie.
The Wallabee Weaver is a great shoe too. A guy at Stockport College had a pair in ‘88 that were the same shade as Lemon bonbons. I remember thinking, “Twat—I wish I’d bought them before him.”
The Desert Trek is a massive shoe now, but it was always the outsider. The Nature Trek should also be in there. It’s a Rasta shoe, but they also wore it at Wigan Casino in the 80s. Then there’s the Wallabee Sport as well. We’re not sure if Clarks ever made that or if it was just a Padmore & Barnes. And then there’s one which should really be right at the top, which is a Polyveldt, but with a Wallabee Sport upper. It looks like a Native Craftworks. I’ve only ever seen a picture of that, but I nearly feinted when I saw it. There’s the Minster Moor, which is a 2000s remake of a Nature Trek with a Polyveldt sole. You’ll see women on the school run wearing the women’s version of this, which is called the Funny Dream.
And there’s another one too. A friend of mine called Phil Saxe, him and his brother had a jeans shop in the Arndale in the 80s. He also used to DJ at the Twisted Wheel and he knew my sister Heather from different circles around south Manchester. He said to me, “Have you ever seen Futureveldts?” He said they had them at a shop called Sport’s Box in the Underground Market. He said they were all red, all turquoise and navy blue. I think they must have been the same as Natureveldt, but all one colour like a pair of kickers. I’ve never even seen them, but they’ve got to be in the list somewhere.
This article originally appeared in Proper Magazine Issue 19 (albeit with a much better into). Photos by Mike Sallabank.