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Oi Polloi, a Eulogy

Thursday 31 August 2023

Shoes of the People

Since what feels like the beginning of time a proportion of society have been blessed with the trait of being sartorially obsessed. I'm lucky enough to have been thrusted into that fraternity from the tender age of fourteen and it's something that I feel makes up every fibre of my being and effects many of my personality traits. I've always said it comes into the way you walk, talk and even the way you tie your shoelaces. I guess what I'm implying here is that clothing and style and above that, the way we carry and present ourselves is very, very important... For me, my clothing is my armour, it's my proverbial coat of arms and something which allows people to make judgements on me before I've even uttered a word, a very powerful tool don't you think? Beneath this very large umbrella lies the beginning of this obsession, the first love and the item of clothing I feel either makes or breaks your rig out, shoes...

Over the years many brands have come and gone but there's always been a few constants. One of the main players in this small, select group is "Clarks Originals" a brand that's been with me from day dot. Now don't get me wrong, in recent years they haven't been as prolific as they once were but among the many garish collabs there's still some class and sustenance there... When you get heavily into a brand and their ethos, it's very easy to want to buy lots of the product all at once and quickly become a bit of a brand whore. I had a period of time where I was buying 1/2 pairs of Clarks a month, and at one stage I amassed a collection somewhere in the 60's! Times have changed/moved on and I've become a little more mature so this buying habit no longer became sensible nor did the vast majority of designs appeal to me. Clarks were always there but I'd focus on buying 1/2 "Grail" pairs every 6 months as opposed to whatever I could get my hands on that I liked. Following this buying model, it prompted me to think of 4 pairs that I felt summed up both the brand's ethos perfectly and showcase that "Glory Years" period from around 2008-2013. I wrote a piece on this about 10 years ago when I started the site, so it'll be interesting to see the parallels.... if any. Here's 4 pairs of Clarks Originals that I feel have rode the choppy waves of time...

1. Clarks Originals "Oberon"

Where do you start with these? Originally called "Polyveldt" and released way back in the 1970's the Oberon came onto the scene for A/W 11 and almost slipped under the radar like an enemy submarine. These are what me and the boys would describe as a "good boozing shoe" due to the fact they're a solid tan leather and can endure several post football spontaneous drinking sessions. They're one of those shoes that transcend the day into night cycle and have that dual purpose about them that goes beyond the realms of "Smart/Casual" Built on a solid sole and using the same last as the legendary Polyveldt the Oberon moved things forward into the 2010's, yet were still a pretty underground shoe from what I can remember at the time. You'd see other mobs of lads at the football and out of say 20 boys there'd be maybe 1/2 lads wearing these. Nine out of ten times you gave them a little nod just to let them know you knew what they were onto! Since those heady days the Oberon became much more of a cult shoe which is now incredibly sought after. I managed to bag a pair a couple of years ago and have been wearing them in times where most people's are worn out which gives mine a sort of individualist revival, I'll take that. 

2. Clarks Wallabee x Oi Polloi

A brand which us lads have mourned the demise of recently asking ourselves the age old question, "Are there any good independents left!?" once put out a run of great collabs with Clarks within the space of only a few short years. The first one was these wallas in a dusty orange unicorn leather. They did a wasabi pair too and both instantly became like fucking gold dust straight after the launch party. It was one of them, "You had to be on the crest of the wave..." moments. I looked high and low for a pair of these which many non-clothes heads would describe as, "The same as you've already got" but that's where us and them lot are very different. Made exactly like the original "Padmore & Barnes" pairs with that perfect shape and chunkiness these are different gravy. It helps too that the unicorn leather finish is both supple and ages like a fine wine. I've only had my pair best part of 6 months but they've adorned many a public house carpet and football terrace already... Boss!

3. Clarks Wallabee Ridge x Oi Polloi 

The Mancunian emporium were back again with another delve into the Somerset archives, this time with the highly coveted "Clarks Caravan" or "Wallabee Ridge" as it had been renamed. This pair once again showed how a forgotten classic could be reworked and reimagined and given a new lease of life. They came in two suede CW's one maple and one cola. I managed to get both pairs and I always seem to opt for the cola and their earthy tones as they're very wearable. Those who remember these halcyon days will remember the small brush you were given with each pair too embossed with the CO X OP logos. As time has passed I feel we lack this level of craftsmanship from brands and independents... When this collab came to the fore you just felt that two brands had came together in a union to create something perfect from their collective visions. I long for the day when we see releases like this again. 

4. Clarks Desert Trek Hi 50th Anniversary

Another model that I never thought we'd get a reissue of but was pleasantly surprised when Clarks popped up with these in sand suede for the 50th anniversary of the well loved Desert Trek. I've loved these shoes for as long as I can remember. I got hammered for wearing them at school when I was 14 and then saw the same geezers in them in the pub years later who'd finally caught up. Life moves in mysterious ways... This iteration came in the superb sand suede CW with white contrasting stitching and are in the boot form rather than the shoe. The rear panel has been updated from the classic "Bankrobber" to a geezer sporting a backpack and carrying a coffee which I find very 21st century but it's the little details innit! The famous fobs come in a pair this time and you ever get a second pair of laces. They look good with all the tried and tested ensembles (selvedge & chinos) and are a shoe that emphasise that you know your shit. Forever imitated, never bettered!

Times have changed and so has the market, independents shutting down all over the gaff, brands coming and going and yet certain things will always be there. Clarks may have lost their way with their mental collabs, ever-rising price points and conveyer belt of models being churned out which don't provide much inspiration. I'll always be a fan and will pick up the odd pair, but like many long for the days when everything was right; design, collaboration and most importantly quality!



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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger