The choice of subcultures and superstars alike
Blur in their Dr. Martens

Surely nothing better demonstrates the immutable natural bond between music and fashion more than a Dr. Marten boot. The DM has been the footwear of choice for subcultures and superstars alike for half a century now and its relationship with music is becoming even more entwined.

Dr. Martens has in the past released album compilations and sponsored festivals, but now the brand is venturing off in more a creative direction with its music projects. To make a mark with its fiftieth birthday this month, the shoe giant has commissioned ten exciting cover versions of classic songs.

Since the birth of the ‘1460’ design on 1st April 1960, the Dr. Marten boot has become a ubiquitous fashion staple, worn by tribes and clans from the skinheads and the punks to the mods to grunge kids.

“The ‘1460’ eight-eye boot is embedded in footwear folklore,” says Dan Freeland, from DM HQ. “It is also very versatile and lends itself to new colours, materials and finishes so it constantly stays fresh.”

It has documented social history as an unwavering symbol of British subculture. As alternative scenes may come and go, the spirit of the DM seems to carry on, continued usually by new troupes of social misfits with distinct street-evolved styles.

The boots have made something of a comeback in recent years, due to the launch of a number of flagship stores around the UK and also to the cycle of fashion trends and renaissance of styles. Hipsters and the fashion sets are now wearing the boot like those with a more political or music-orientated taste in style have done in the past.

Dr. Marten never set out to be a fashion icon: the boot was born from more humble beginnings than that and would never have guessed it would become popular amongst the sophisticated and the famous. Intended as daytime wear for workers like postmen, policeman, dockers and the like, the design emphasis was on functionality. The heavy-duty shoe had instant working class appeal and an overarching sense of authenticity of the uncontrived kind, which was loved by punks and rock ‘n’ roll rebels, like The Clash and The Who.

Following Pete Townshend’s lead, The Who showed they were proud of their working class identities, wearing the ‘1460’ boot as a badge of working class honor.

How can Freeland account for this musical connection? “Music and subcultures go hand in hand, and therefore those on the fringes of society have always worn Dr. Martens,” he says. “Musicians have always worn the product because of its non-conformity and certainly because of its individuality. What started with The Who and Madness and The Clash has continued to Lady Gaga and to the Foo Fighters and to the Black Eyed Peas.”

And he places importance on sustaining this special relationship. “As consumers and subcultures evolve, brands have to as well,” says Freeland.

Hence their new video project, where the cult and the contemporary will unite to celebrate Dr. Martens’ true unconventional and non-conformist style. Some of the world’s most revered musicians and video directors have been enlisted to join forces to make a series of exclusive music videos, which you can view and download for free on their website

The songs and artists encapsulate the true spirit of this iconic boot. April’s selection sees Dam Funk doing Human League, The Duke Spirit doing Sham 69, and The Noisettes doing The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’. There are regular new monthly video offerings due to go live throughout the year.

Amongst the creative giants chosen for this directing project were Rankin and Chris Cottam, who worked with the uber stylish Shingai from The Noisettes, who added a little soul to The Buzzcocks’ punk track.

“They are the ultimate sign of rebellion,” says fashion photographer-sometime-video-director Rankin, of the Doc Marten boot. “My friends and I wore them at school because we weren’t allowed to. It was an ‘up yours’ to the authorities and were a symbol of a counter-culture that we wanted to be a part of.”

“I must have been about fourteen,” recalls co-director Chris Cottam on his first pair. “There is something about getting a new pair of shoes at that age, you couldn’t sleep the night before, you were so excited to strut your stuff the next day. It was funny trying to be nonchalant in gleaming brand new DMs though.”

Rankin and Cottam both felt that they wanted to direct this already visually strong front woman in a unique and newly invigorating light. “We decided from the start to treat the track as more of a torch song rather than a punk anthem,” he says. “Shingai has such an incredible look that we wanted to use, as well as showing her in a different way. We wanted to make something unique with a series of images that complemented the power of the track. Her performance was incredible, our job was to capture that.”

“Dr. Martens recognises how important music has been in shaping the brand,” says Freeman on the collaboration. “Releasing tracks on to the Internet is a natural, progressive step for Dr. Martens to connect with consumers in an environment where people interact with music.”

Dr. Martens has some serious longevity: it is the only boot in the English Dictionary and the first product to come with a lifetime guarantee. With the brand’s continuous desire to evolve and its classically cool designs, it’s hard to think the appeal of the soul/rock ‘n’ roll/punk/grunge/skin/goth and whatever next boots will ever cease.

Words by April Welsh

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