West Goes Eastwards? Or Is It The Other Way Round?

American classic courts Nippon innovation: Timberland pairs with Porter. Should the Japanese have budged?Timberland X Porter 2-Way Boston BagBy Ray Zhang

Who proposed first? That is the question, but it’s probably inconsequential to those who consider this a marriage in heaven. To me, the Japanese bag brand Porter is so strong in its designs and its branding that it really requires no collaboration with an American brand to elevate the former’s standing among serious bagaholics. Yet, it is with Timberland that one of Japan’s most recognisable bag brands has chosen to co-output a capsule collection.

However I see it, the pairing is still a little mismatched. Sure, Timberland has attained cool status among those who let their footwear do the talking, and its 6-inch boot is still considered an ‘icon’. But Porter could possibly be on a higher rung of the status ranking, considering that the parent organisation Yoshida & Co (also known in Japan as Yoshida Kaban) are the go-to manufacturer of bags for many of Japan’s high-end labels, from Sacai to White Mountaineering. Outside of Japan, the eagerness by designer brands to collaborate with Porter—from Marni to Christopher Ræburn—has made the bag maker well loved to the level of cultish.

Admittedly, I am a Japanophile and I do have a weakness for Porter bags. Going to the B Jirushi Yoshida store in Tokyo’s Daikanyama—concept space conceived with the retailer Beams—is like a child stepping into Kiddy Land in Harajuku: it’s a bewildering experience and you cannot go against the urge to spend. Everything in there is, to me, worlds apart from and more covetable than anything seen in an LV store. It’s really how Yoshida & Co is able to make Porter totally practical and yet aesthetically appealing. Long-time collaborator Beams has a simple but on-point description: “basic and exciting”.

The Timberland X Porter collaboration yields two styles of bags in two colours (black and olive): The Boston (above) and a knapsack called a ‘daypack’. I was not too impressed with the latter, so I gave the carryall closer inspection instead. Face to face, you can’t mistake the silhouette: it’s a Porter standard seen in such styles as the Black Beauty ‘duffle’ and even the slimmer take in the form of the Master Navy ‘brief case’. To me, the all-time favourite in the Porter cache wasn’t given an imaginative makeover, not even the colour-blocking, already a Porter signature. Yes, I see it: the natural shade on the side and handle is possibly a nod to the Timberland’s “original yellow”, but elsewhere in and outside of the bag, the Porter signatures are too strong to let anything “Timb” stand out: the bright orange lining details and the unmistakable black and white Porter label discreetly stitched to the left-hand (or right, if you’re looking straight at it) bottom corner, but still conspicuous.

I guess, for many, that little rectangle is reason enough to cop one (or both) of the two bags. As for me, I can wait till Tokyo’s energetic streets are again beneath my feet.

The Timberland X Porter capsule collection of bags (SGD529 for the backpack and SGD599 for the Boston)  and 6-inch boots (SGD399) are available at Robinsons The Hereen. Photos: Timberland/Porter

These Boots Are Made For Collecting

Timberland 6 inch bootTimberland’s best-selling shoe, the 6-Inch Boot

There is classic footwear and there is classic footwear, but some are destined to be more classic than others. Take the Timberland 6″ Boot, for example. Its fate wasn’t foreseeable in 1973 when it was released. It didn’t even have a real name (6” is a description, not a moniker). The company now calls it an “icon”. Even on the store shelves, it is branded as such. This is, perhaps, no exaggeration. It has been the boot of choice for two large groups of wearers for more than four decades that such a status is very real for them.

Timberland originally marketed the 6” as work boots (internally it’s known as Style #10061) to construction workers. And it did win their support. These boots worked as promised: tough, hard-wearing, and water-proof (injection-molding tech allows soles to be fused to the leather uppers without stitching). If you’ve ever slipped into a pair, you’d know why these boots can survive tough conditions such as those on a construction site. First-timers would need some time to break into them as they are heavy and rigid, and definitely not as easy to put on and go as, say a pair of Chelsea boots.

Timberland Yellow Boot wall

The Yellow Timberland Boot takes its pride of place in Timberland’s flagship store in Raffles CIty

Somewhere along the Timberland 6” Boot’s journey forward, it caught the attention of people not the least connected to the work the target customers were doing. By the mid-Nineties, the 6” boots gained traction among hip-hop artistes without any intent on the part of Timberland. This was so incongruent with the boots’ blue-collar culture that Timberland was reported to have tried distancing themselves from the rappers. But as we know about fashion, the more you resist, the more the other side won’t yield. In time, these boots became synnymous with American hip-hop, just as Dr Martin boots, across the Atlantic, is linked to British rock.

According to American lore, the 6” Boot was first worn in New York City by drug peddlers who, due to the hazards of the job, had to stand on street corners all night. This required boots that would keep their feet warm and dry. Whether the boots helped their trade, no one knew (nor did Timberland desired to find out!). Rappers, always keen to augment their bad-boy image and from-a-tough-‘hood credentials, started adopting the boot as their footwear of choice. As with oversized athletic tops, the 6” Boot, by now known simply as Timbs, quickly identified the kick-ass, tough-as-nails, booty-loving hip-hop star, from Tupac to Wu-Tang Clan to Jay Z to Kanye West. As we know, you can’t apply a brake on the influence rappers have on urban style.

Kanye West in TimberlandKanye West in unmistakable Timberland 6-Inch Boots


Timberland’s distinctive boots on the MRT floor

How this essentially winter boot caught on in sunny Singapore is unclear. The staff at Timberland stores is usually eager to tell you that the 6” Boot is the brand’s best-seller. It is unlikely that construction workers—mostly imported labour—could afford these boots. And there is not a hip-hop scene here large enough to boost the boots’ visibility. Yet, at any one time, when you scan across the length of an MRT train, there’s a good chance you’ll spot the unmistakable yellow nubuck that is the 6” Inch Boot. At a recent visit to the store in Ion Orchard, a lanky boy—with jeans so skinny they definitely looked painted on—tried a pair of the boot. He struggled to get into them, and when successful, stood up, and admiringly said to his female companion, “Love it: my feet look big!”

In spite of its popularity, the Timberland 6” Boot is not to be dismissed as common. Work wear, in fact, continues to be an important category of influence for major designers, and the boot has found collaborators among the most unlikely of supporters, including edgy names such as Mastermind JAPAN and Colette. Our present favourite is the reiteration by the joint forces of Supreme and Comme des Garçons. The output: a subtle tweak on a very recognisable form and colour. Sadly, this is not available in Singapore. Timberland was not able to say why.

The Best Timberland 6″ Boot Collaboration Of 2015

Timberland X AtmosTimberland X Atmos

Timberland X Supreme & Comme des Garcons SHIRTTimberland X Supreme & Comme des Garçons SHIRT

Timberland X Bee Line for Billionaire Boys ClubTimberland X Bee Line for Billionaire Boys Club

Timberland 6″ premium boots, SGD329, are available at Timberland stores nationwide

Japanese Flair For An American Boot

Timberland x United Arrows Beauty & Youth Premium 6” Boot

The Timberland wheat-coloured boot is one of those classic shoes with work wear reliability that continues to appeal to guys. It is not, by default, a fashionable boot, but by intermittent cosmic intervention of recent years, it has become somewhat cool, especially among those fellows who like to be shod in chunky footwear such as boots by Red Wing Shoes. Or by sartorially savvy individuals who wear the pink instead of the characteristic wheat version as a cheeky challenge to conventional ideas of what makes for manly shoes.

But perhaps that’s going to change with Japanese brand Beauty & Youth giving the forty-plus-year-old Timberland 6-Inch Premium a touch of modern Nippon accents. By association alone, this reiteration may draw the attention of hipsters. Beauty & Youth is part of United Arrows, a Japanese chain store that imbues just enough details and quirks into everything they do, no matter how classic the merchandise, so as to stay on the right side of cool, and enough to keep them straddling comfortably between the traditional and the forward. This is best exemplified in their Harajuku store, one of Tokyo’s most alluring multi-label emporiums. It’s really a Japanese thing, an obsession, and only the Japanese tweak heritage this well. You’ll see it in this Timberland 6-Inch Premium.

Timberland x United Arrows Beauty & Youth Premium 6” Boots

This isn’t Timberland’s first collaboration with Beauty & Youth. Back in the summer of 2009, both brands came up with an all-black boat shoe (with Timberland’s signature orange lining). For the present, the Timberland marketing machinery has been able to seduce the media into calling this new 6-Inch Premium a “special edition”. So how special is it? In this collaboration, the makeover is kept very subtle, unlike, say, Riccardo Tisci and Nike’s bombastic Air Force 1. The wheat-coloured nubuck upper is there, the seam-sealed waterproof construction too, so is the anti-fatigue footbed (which makes this ideal for long walks) and the rubber lug outsole. Here are the Beauty & Youth subtleties: a navy nubuck (instead of dark brown leather) padded collar, tonal (instead of contrast) stitching, golden round (instead of silver octagonal) eyelets, and monotone (instead of two-tone) laces.

In our hands, the boots are heavy, look authentic and feel sturdy, not over-reaching the “premium” tag. They are also still evocative of mountain hikes, barnyard amble, and feet in piles of leaves that have outlived their usefulness on branches. And, for purists, they are totally Timberland.

Timberland x United Arrows Beauty & Youth Premium 6” Boot, SGD 359, is available from today at Timberland @ Raffles City, ION Orchard, 313@ Somerset, and Paragon, as well as Takashimaya Men’s Department