Hard on the heels of the brogues revival, Dr Martens boots have become the latest footwear to be rediscovered by young fashion-conscious consumers.
The online fashion retailer Asos has reported a 230% rise in sales from 2011 to 2012, with this summer the best-selling season ever, while in March the company announced profits of £22m, making it the eighth fastest-growing private company in the UK.
Sales of the quintessentially British boots – worn by everyone from models such as Agyness Deyn and pop stars such as Blur to skinheads and the police – have boomed worldwide, particularly in France, the US and Hong Kong.
Founded in 1960, the brand is owned by the Northamptonshire-based Griggs family and is currently up for sale, with speculation rife that the new owner could be the Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman and his investment fund Pamplona Capital.
When the sale was announced in February, the price was originally quoted at £120m, but the boots’ current vogue has lead to suggestions that it could sell for as much as £200m.
Ruth Faulkner, footwear correspondent for Drapers, said the boots’ association with British youth culture made them particularly appealing abroad. “I think they can push it in the Asian market where it will do very well,” she said. “It’s such an iconic, British brand.”
The boots’ air-cushioned sole was invented by Dr Klaus Maertens in Munich after he injured his ankle and found regular army boots uncomfortable. Bill Griggs licensed the sole in 1960 and designed the now unmistakable 1460 eight-eye boot with yellow stitching and a round toe.
It was rapidly adopted by young 60s mods – Pete Townshend of the Who claimed to go to bed on tour with “a cognac bottle and a Dr Martens boot” – and was subsequently worn by British skinheads on the ska scene.
Though the original skinheads were not a racist cult, by the early 80s the boot became notorious as part of the uniform of neo-Nazis the world over.
A decade on, the boot was adopted both by the American grunge scene and British pop stars who wanted to hark back to its 60s heritage, such as Morrissey and Blur.
By the early 2000s, the brand had been replaced by Converse in the affections of young music fans, but Faulkner says trends “tend to go in cycles”. Hanna Hanra, contributing editor of Elle, said the boots’ popularity was part of a revival of 90s grunge fashion.
“Girls started wearing checked shirts, and DMs are the footwear that goes with that. They are also a move on from the brogue – it’s an attitude thing. If you wear a skirt and pair of DMs, the message is ‘don’t mess’.”
The most prominent modern wearer of DMs is the model-turned-actress Agyness Deyn. After noticing that she wore the boots off-duty, the company signed her up to star in their ad campaign and design a range of boots for them, out in September.
Other enthusiasts include the actor Jaime Winston and the model Alice Dellal, who made them an integral part of a ripped-tights-and-denim aesthetic which saw her become the face of Chanel. The American TV stars Jessica Alba and Whitney Port have also worn the chunky boots to add an edge to their more polished style.
The brand’s current popularity is not confined to its boots. Oliver Tezcan, buying manager at Asos, says Dr Martens three-hole shoes have recently outsold the boots on the shopping site. The chunky shoes have been worn by celebrities including Alexa Chung, Rihanna and Pixie Geldof, often accessorised with short socks and yards of leg.
The brand has worked hard to get on the radar of a new generation hungry for heritage but demanding a new spin, working with the designer Andrew Bunney – formerly of Nike and the cult Japanese label Visvim, and who recently left to start his own jewellery and accessories line – to relaunch it.
He introduced lines of loafers, sandals and heels, along with multiple finishes and colours, but retained the signature thick rubber sole, yellow stitching and chunky shape – something fans such as Hanra appreciate.
“I like that they don’t change much otherwise – it’s this shape, or that shape.”
The brand has also collaborated with the designer Raf Simons, now at Dior, and the cult American outdoors brand Pendleton, while boots with a floral print made with Liberty proved a hit.
“Both brands pursue innovation and newness rather than being seeped in their history,” says the Liberty managing director, Ed Burstell. “We knew a collaboration would highlight a really interesting discord between our two brands and bring a different audience in to Liberty. The collection sold way beyond our very high expectations.”