“Wear the straps around your ass / the Dr. Martens put your feet / keep your hair in order / to get credibility on the street.” Pete Townshend The Who
A documentary made for the 50th Anniversary, one of the most iconic brands of the 60s youth culture today. For the occasion, Dr. Martens launched in limited release edition for collectors of the first legendary model has 8 eyes, christened with the code 1460.
Article by ELODIE MAZEIN
April 2, 2010
As the footwear maker turns 50, it is looking back on a remarkable transformation from tiny German company making orthopaedic boots to fashion icon whose shoes are worn by artists and world leaders alike.
The turning point was in 1959, when two German medics tried to market a shoe with an air-cushion sole, developed by one of them – Klaus Maertens – to help him convalesce after a skiing accident.
”The magic moment happened when, through an advert in a British professional magazine, the Griggs family – working-boots makers – met the German doctors Maertens and Funck,” says Martin Roach, who has written a history of the company.
”At that time it was an orthopaedic boot sold 80 per cent to German women over the age of 40. They felt there was a bigger market but they needed a partner, hence the ad,” says Roach, author of Dr Martens: The Story of an Icon.
On April 1, 1960, the first pair of Dr Martens – the name was anglicised, for ease of pronunciation – was produced by the Griggs factory in the village of Wollaston in central England.
With eight eyelets, ox blood red with distinctive yellow stitching, the new design was dubbed 1460 after the date of its creation. Rather than middle-aged Germans, the target market for the new boot was working-class Britons seeking a more comfortable and cheaper alternative to other footwear firms’ rigid-soled leather offerings.
”My grandfather was the first one to sell Dr Martens in the world. We’ve sold the brand for the longest,” says Nick Romona, owner of the British Boot Company in the trendy north London borough of Camden.
”It was good, strong, comfortable, affordable workwear for the average working men in Britain …
”For a lot of [those] that picked up on them, like the punks and the skinheads, they were a good pair of solid, decent boots.”
Within a few years the 1460 became an essential accessory for musicians wanting to play up their working-class links, including the Who’s Pete Townshend, who was followed by dozens of other stars.
”Usually when a new subculture appears, it gets rid of the symbols of the previous subculture. But not the Doc Martens. It stayed with the skinheads, the punks, the mods, the grunges and so on,” says Roach.
Their status as a style icon remains to this day, he says: ”The Doc Martens’ DNA is the same as youth fashion, so it will never go away.”
Romona adds: ”They appeal to everybody – whether a postman, a schoolboy, a nurse or a judge.”
Michael is a doctor buying his first pair. ”I do a lot of walking in my work and I often wear through shoes, probably about every year. I just wanted a pair that wouldn’t wear out on me and that would last a very long time, and the DMs do,” he says.
German fortysomething Sabina Muller adds: ”I had my first Doc Martens when I was a 16-year-old girl and they are still all right … I love them.”
More than 100 million pairs of Dr Martens have been sold since that first pair was unveiled 50 years ago – although there are now some 250 different models, from golden to fuchsia, flowered to custom patterned.
But, in a sign of the times, almost all of them have been made in Asia since 2002: only about 50 leave the factory in Wollaston every day, including the vintage 1460 model, made by 10 or so workers on old machines.
The shop in Camden has also become an icon for the Doc Martens faithful internationally.
”It’s a very famous destination; we get customers from all over the world,” says Romona. ”They want to come here to see where it all started. They come from father to son … especially from Europe. Their fathers will have bought their first DM boots in this store in the ’70s and ’80s.
”I am personally very proud to be the grandson of the guy who first sold them.”