Fashion Icon

George Armani is famous for his ‘soft shoulder’ suits. Christian Dior has the New Look’. And the slightly less well known French designer, Jeanne Lanvis, the ‘Pleated’ dresses of the 20’s. But Nathan Clark?

Dr Charlotte Berry was invited by the Friends of the Museum this Thursday to give a talk on C&J Clark Ltd of Street and she said the story of Nathan Clark begins in the bazaars of Cairo in the Second World War and ends in Weston-super-Mare at the turn of the century.

Nathan Clark, a young officer in the Royal Army Service Corps was posted to Burma in 1941 with orders to help establish a supply route from Rangoon to the Chinese forces at Chongqing whilst also launching a series of offensives throughout South East Asia. He noticed the Indians favoured sandals that came from the North-West Frontier provinces, open at toe and heel, but double-wrapped across the foot for protection.  He also observed boots had been commissioned from cobblers in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili souk by South Africans among the desert army to replace their worn-out boots. These bazaar boots were sewn from soft, flexible hides, with a reliable grip yet cushioned tread on sand or rocks; Clark, intrigued, scissored newspaper patterns of the pieces for sandal and boot while in his barracks. He had understood what few did, that the fighting kit of the allies – sweat shirts, field jackets and desert boots – could become peacetime leisurewear.   Nathan posted the patterns to his brother in Street which produced no interest. He didn’t abandon his designs, but took them to the Chicago shoe fair of 1947. The Americans loved their Britishness and the Desert Boot icon was born!  During the course of time, a factory in Whitecross, Weston-Super-Mare was subcontracted to relieve the Shepton Mallet factory of the manufacture of the Desert Boot. The Bushacre factory at Locking Road, Weston-Super-Mare was later constructed in 1958. The Desert Boot was manufactured there until closure of the factory in 2001.

Dr Berry asks Westonians who worked at the Bushacre factory to contact her if they have any pictures.

Contact Details:

Charlotte Berry, Archivist.

Alfred Gillet Trust, Box 1, 40 High Street, Somerset, BA16 0EQ

Tel: 01458 842557

Desert Boot poster


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