25 March 2015

[branding] On My First Pair of "Doc" Martens

It has come to pass, at this stage of the game, that I've been introduced to my first pair of Dr. Martens shoes. And since I started breaking them in, a surprisingly gentle process, I've been struck suddenly with a great many resonances with what I've learnt over time about style, reputation, and that god of our modern times, branding. 

The Shoes In Question. Dr Martens Icon 7B10 SSF.
Branding is all, it must be writ somewhere largely, more than likely in some latter-day design text. And, to a degree, it makes sense. More than ever, marketing doesn't just seem to mean getting things sold, it means survival. And Docs have survived, that's for certain - 50 years and more now.

What the brand signature of Docs contain, then, carries a lot of baggage. They've been everywhere … from the forefront of 60s British rock and roll (Pete Townshend made them famous and Tommy put them on the map, according to the legend) to the urban discontent of 70s and 80s era punks and skinheads – a signature of violence. Since then, they've ascended to the rarefied air of timeless fashion, it would seem. And now, non-ironically, characters from Adventure Time are rocking them.

Dr. Martens are as likely to be worn latterly as for reasons of style as well as for reasons of function. In several cities in America and around the world, Dr. Martins have boutique-style storefronts; Portland is one of them, with a store at the corner of NW 10th Ave. and W. Burnside Street, across the street from Powell's Books.

There's history there … you can shop in a space that once held the broadcast booth where the legendary KISN Good Guys held court, visibly from the street. A lot of commerce has gone that way.

For someone like me, the primary consideration in investing in a pair of Docs is quality and endurance. I prefer the workboot style – properly kept, in a sharp style and profile, goes with just about anything, and will take you everywhere. The well-done workboot, with its treaded, skid-resistant sole, should offer traction that will make the urban walker feel confident on and off the street. It's a real all-purpose style for someone who doesn't want to be bothered too much about it.

The Dr. Martens Icon 7B10 SSF gives me all that, and more there's the obvious appeal to quality. The manufacturer makes a pride of showing off the quality steps involved, and, if you come from a background of buying a pair of Payless Shoe Source shoes every couple of years, after thrashing the current pair, the high quality of the components are obvious after even the most causal perusal. Next to the famous air-cushioned soles of the Docs, the soles of the Payless shoes seem cheap plastic; the leather of the uppers is supple and feels good to the touch, as opposed to the cheaper, thinner leather of the others; the pull-strap on the back of the shoe seems designed with easy donning in mind, rather than simply put there for looks. Dr. Martens has learned lessons in fit, design and construction from the decades of serving workers of many lands (before it made its debut on the stage, Docs were favored by workers in heavy trades such as construction and postal work).

So, by now, Dr. Martens is all those things and more, an example of basic style that adapts to the whims of fashion and though it went on outings with thugs in its youth, it's grown up and gotten down to work, and if the message is sometimes a little mixed (we fancy our Docs were Made in England, as in the web site's screenshot - though mine were made in China, and Made In England applies to a subset of their styles) the accent on solid quality for the value (you'll be paying a lot for a good pair of Docs, but you'll presumably get at least as much back in function and use) keeps it a vital product, and all of that positive attribution makes it into the brand, and keeps it valuable.

If it keeps me out of the shoe store every two years, stays easy-to-wear, and stays looking good, then that'll aquit them with me. 

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