The Shoes With The Tattoos

Doc Martens Tattoo collection SS 2015

Closewise from left: Doc Marten women’s Adaya Sandal, men’s1460 Boot, women’s Polley Shoe, and men’s 1461 Shoe

By Shu Xie

Tattoos, like plastic surgery, can be addictive. A friend related to me recently how, these days, she’s more inclined to go to a tattoo rather than a beauty palour. What began as a small, permanently inked memento on her right upper arm to remind her of a terrific holiday (later revealed to be a romantic encounter!) in Bangkok soon became an obsession that covered two arms completely. She has no fear that the fixation could one day mean all over the body. I was only able to say, “how yakuza of you!”

And that had me thinking of the ‘Tattoo’ shoes by Doc Martens (DM). Part of the spring/summer 2015 collection, these are clearly inspired by Japanese body art. The all-over tattoo DM prints on their leather uppers is akin to traditional Jap tattooing called irezumi, with motifs such as koi fish, cherry blossoms, peacocks and clouds—all muted in colour—on what the brand calls “tan”, or what some of us call nude. According to DM, ‘Tattoo’ is a “tribute to the West Coast hardcore punk scene, which helped popularize Dr. Martens in the US in the mid-’80s”. Hardcore punk scene may sound unyielding and aggressive, but on yakuza grounds, that’s probably marketing talk. Members of Japanese organised crime syndicates, who are tattooed as part of their initiation or gang identity, take irezumi rather seriously, with many of them going for full-body tattoo, including armpits and genitalia.

Japanese body art is so steep in history, symbolism, and gangsterism that it is tempting to digress! I don’t think you would disagree, but let’s go back to the DM shoes. This isn’t the first time Doc Martens dabbles with tattoos, but the previous version were a little too Ed Hardy for my liking. This time, authenticity won out. The women’s versions—the platform Adaya Sandal and the Mary Jane-looking Polly—sport a reduced amount of leather and show more of the wearer’s epidermis. They do appear less menacing and should appeal if you’re easily intimidated by anything associated with ruthless gangsters. The men’s version—1461 shoes and 1460 boot—are rather fierce footwear and should bolster your standing as a tough guy. My admiration of these shoes has increased with each viewing even if I risk being charged with proclivity to pai kia aesthetics. Doc Martens made it more appealing when I learned that the shoes are treated with leather protector, presumably to make the tattoo indelible. It’s such an uncommon extra that resistance, as the Borg would say, is futile.

Dr Martens Tattoo collection, from SGD219, is available at Doc Martens stores

Plain Flat Clunky

Doc Martens Aggy sandalsDoc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals with patent leather straps

These are man-repelling shoes, and mothers frown on them too. Still, women are willing to embrace them even after being weaned on towering Blahnik stilettos or dainty Vivier heels. The almost-sudden love for styles that look like orthopaedic footwear, however, is not really a new affair. For as long as there have been Birkenstocks and Teva river sandals, women (and men) have loved being clunkily shod.

Since we have been talking about Kate Moss in the previous post, it is, perhaps, interesting to note that the popularity of Birkenstocks has never really waned since she wore them in one of those iconic pictures shot by Corrine Day. And that was in 1993! Those double-strapped, thick-soled ‘Arizona’ slip-ons with the generously ample toe-box (perfect for wearing to the pedicurist) are still available today, and any time at the Birkenstock boutique in Wheelock Place, you’ll see them being snapped up.

Kate Moss by Corrine Day

Corrine Day’s shot of Kate Moss from the 1990s

While Ms Moss’s clothes received much of the world’s attention, especially those unsightly cut-off denim shorts, her choice of footwear too had far-reaching impact. Indeed, throughout much of the mid-Nineties, Birkenstock sandals (including those from the sister line Papillio) and similar were the deliberate choice of many savvy souls who could make the unattractive attractive, a proposition quite often witnessed at the house of Prada. Challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful does not have to start at the face or the body, it can, as Birkenstock has shown, begin at the feet. Prada, too, had made their share of so-nasty-they’re-cool shoes. As Miuccia Prada told T Mag last year, “The investigation of ugliness is… more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty”. That search has never ceased and can still be exemplified in the current line of sporty sandals, some festooned with faux gem stones (to augment its kitsch value?).

Prada sandals black SS 2014Prada’s canvas sandals

Back in the Nineties, the Birkenstock allure came hot on the heels of Doc Martens, a brand closely associated with grunge. Grunge—“a hippied romantic version of punk”, as defined by its proponent Marc Jacobs—may have largely exited the scene when Mr Jacobs was ousted from Perry Ellis in 1993, but the penchant for unfeminine thick-soled shoes was so pervasive that many designers wondered aloud if women will ever know how to wear heels again.

Today, Birkenstock sandals may not be everyone’s cup of bubble tea since the dubious beauty of their designs does not seem to commensurate with the steep prices they charge, but theirs is a lack of appeal that has, through time and one model endorsement after another (lately, Miranda Kerr), changed perceptions. They are able to do this by remaining unattractive, serving as counterpoint to the surfeit of ‘prettiness’ that has, for too long, prevailed in women’s wear. They predate, for foam resin clog lovers (!), similarly girthed and wide-toed, but covered Crocs. These shoes, unfortunately, are not “pretty ugly”, a deliberately oxymoronic compliment paid by Vogue in describing Birkenstock and its kind when the mag sang the shoes’ praises last July. With Crocs, a name that clearly alludes to a certain hideous-looking reptile, they’ve forsaken beauty for the beast.

Celine sandal SS 2014Celine cross-strapped sandal in patent calfskin

Lest we have been giving too much attention to Birkenstock, we should also point to Celine for those only concerned with recent developments. Phoebe Philo first introduced her take on Birkenstocks with those fur-lined ones, seen in the SS 2013 collection in Paris in the fall of 2012 (and now also reinterpreted by Givenchy as seen in the ‘Barka’ sandal). By Christmas that year, fashionistas were spotted on Orchard Road with their Birkenstocks in anticipation of an idea burgeoning into a trend. As we saw with Ms Philo’s first bag—the Paddington for Chloé, it was really a matter of time.

A year after the Celine debut, flat and clunky sandals have yet to retire to an ignored corner of the shoe cabinet. As the popularity of these shoes hit a high point, here at SOTD, we’re partial to the Doc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals. We like the thick sole, the wide white corridor (with orange stitching!), and, as with a Birkenstock, the long-wearing comfort. Call us boring. We don’t care.

Prada sandals, from SGD1,250, available at Prada, Ion Orchard. Doc Martens Aggy sandals, SGD259, available at the Doc Martens, Wheelock Place. Birkenstock Arizona sandals, SGD99, available at all Birkenstock stores