How to Keep an Iconic Australian Brand Relevant For Decades
The first pair of R.M. Williams was designed 85 years ago — how are we still wearing that same style, almost every day of the week?
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Owning your first pair of R.M. Williams is like an Australian coming-of-age moment. The brand, first established in 1932 by Reginald Murray Williams, is a classic through and through. From a modest start in the Adelaide outback learning leatherworking from local bushmen, Williams built a following among the stockmen and women of the heartland, and eventually — over a highly prolific eight decades — gained global notoriety. 85 years later, fans are still wearing R.M.s — from farmers in the outback, to corporate businessmen, to the style set at fashion week.
How has the iconic brand managed to stay relevant, and stand the test of time over eight decades? In partnership with R.M. Williams and in celebration of their 85th anniversary, we sat down with head designer Jeremy Hershan to discuss respecting your roots, honouring the craft and innovating from there. Oh, and never, ever forgoing quality.
TIMELESS DESIGN NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE
Jeremy Hershan earned his stripes in the fashion industry designing for high-end, heritage brands — he's worked with Kris Van Assche of Dior Homme, and set up on London's Savile Row at Gieves & Hawkes. Last year, the Melbourne-born designer landed the lead design role at R.M. Williams, bringing with him a respect for tradition, an appreciation for quality shoes and most importantly, contemporary insight — a necessity for keeping things fresh and captivating at a history-rich design house like R.M. Williams. A treasure trove of beautifully-crafted pieces, the R.M. Williams archive provides a huge source of inspiration. Reworking archival pieces to suit contemporary trends, Hershan explained how he looked to the archives to find relevant styles to reinterpret for the brand's future.
Take the R.M. Williams signature Craftsman boot, for example. First created for the working men and women out in the Australian bush, the boots' design has barely changed during the brand's 85 years. Rather than reinvent the boots every season, modern touches and the use of alternative materials and treatments keep the iconic style fresh and contemporary. For the latest collection, R.M. Williams' master craftspeople worked and reworked the leather of the boots over several days, hand-staining with different creams to create a rich, burnished patina. This sort of attention to detail, and the quality of each and every pair has been key to the brand's 85-year survival. Every shoe is made with one single piece of leather and one integral seam, personally created by craftspeople at the brand's Adelaide workshop.
KEEPING THINGS FRESH THROUGH INNOVATION
Over the years, the Craftsman boot has evolved to incorporate new materials, cuts and fabrications. There are now Classic, Comfort, Signature and Natural styles — each with a different finish, sole style and fit. Originally available only in classic dark brown, the boots are now available in a range of colours including dark tan, chestnut and black, as well as leathers, like French veal calf, crocodile and even kangaroo (if you're feeling patriotic) among many other options. If you are more partial to lighter styles, there's also the women's Adelaide — a slimmer shoe to the Craftsman — and the pointed-toe Millicent, which gained popularity with the fashion crowd after Australian designer Dion Lee collaborated with the brand and dressed his models in custom boots for his runway at fashion week in New York and Sydney in 2014.
By responding to trends through colour and material, the brand has managed to evolve, stay relevant and keep their boots fashionable. Small tweaks have made huge differences, and collaborations with high-end designers have opened the brand up to new customers, all while allowing them to keep their loyal customer base. They've even gone as far as expanding their reach into your home. You can now customise your very own bespoke pair of boots — literally creating those perfect, slightly out-of-reach shoes you've been searching for your whole life.
THE ANTIDOTE TO DISPOSABLE FASHION
With shops overrun by fast, disposable fashion, it's all too easy to buy designer imitations that only last a few months. Hershan urges the need to return to quality and reevaluate our view of fashion. Not mentioning the numerous social and environmental benefits that come from quitting fast fashion, if you invest in a quality pair of boots, they'll last you forever and only get better with time — you know when your boots start to scruff in exactly the right places, that's when they've truly become your boots. Follow Hershan's advice and spend your hard-earned money on a long-term investment, like the Craftsman, that remains stylish and cuts through the noise of ever-changing fast fashion. "It's about buying less, but buying better. A pair of boots is an investment that will last you a lifetime if you take care of them in the right way." Judging by the success of R.M. Williams over the past 85 years, they won't go out of fashion either.
R.M. Williams Craftsman, Adelaide and Millicent boots are available online — head to the website to shop the latest collection or create your own bespoke pair.
By Quinn Connors and Kelly Pigram.
Published on May 19, 2017 by Quinn Connors