Friday, 14 May 2010
Clarks shoe shop review.
Clark's reproduction 1920's shoes, note the ridge of rubber on the soles.
Many of us have a long relationship with Clarks shoes. How many of us had our unwilling feet stuck in that plastic and wood slidy contraption which would always reveal, to our mother’s horror, supernaturally accelerated footsize growth?. I think stepping into Clarks automatically made your feet swell. I hated the shop as a kiddie. Shoes were boring, and if there was a pair that wasn’t boring that was the pair your mother would reject. This was usually because they were an interesting colour, featured sequins or were decorated with super-heroes. Now shoes are as cheap as chips and todays kiddies have bells, balls and sparkly laces. The lucky little devils. When I was young trainers were at least still only sports-wear, a blissful state but the alternatives were sturdy and utilitarian and ugly. Of course now I appreciate this austerity, there is something charming about the flat chunky brown T-bar sandal.
At the moment the high street is not offering much in the way of footwear. Gladiator sandals and tranny high heels really suit, well, gladiators and trannies. I think designers have been filling in the gaps on gladiator sandals, there seems to be an ugly sock/cuff variation on the loose. The once reliably classic M & S has tried to go a bit more cutting edge, and fallen off it. Next had some lovely shoes, particularly a pair of coral red Mary Janes but sadly they looked good but did not fit. My feet are Norman, they resemble the tootsies on medieval tomb sculptures: pointy and diamond shaped.
So for the first time in a while I entered Clark's store on Oxford Street with the serious intention of buying, something, anything, to pound the mean streets of Tooting in. I was struck by how much it resembled the Clarks of the past. I could almost hear myself arguing about why a pair of glitter plastics from Brixton Market were what I really wanted as if it were yesterday. The concession with modernity was a manager with a head set organizing the shoe staff. In this case a small ferocious lady was hissing into her headset “R*** stop pissing around and help that woman in the corner.” As I left she was exhorting her legion to “Sell the handbags”.
Most of the shoes fell into what one might expect to see, but there were also some surprises. A row of fabulous jewel-coloured suede shoes, decorated with a padded lozenge (pictured above). These would work well with 40’s and 50’s styles as the heel is stacked forties style and the lozenge and colours would suit a fifties circle skirt or Mad Men style suits. This might reflect the fact that Clarks over recent years have been doing some savvy marketing and realizing that the nostalgia of consumers like myself and their history mean that they have a unique brand niche on the High Street. They have launched a heritage brand and some of their designs hark back to the past. I was taken by their buckled shoes with a decently high heel, and plan to go back and buy a pair in brown this weekend. I bought some very comfortable late 50’s style granny shoes of the type you might play bowls in. They are part of Clark's 'Bombay' range which seems to have a nice '50's lady about to climb on a pan am flight and go travelling' vibe. I have my eye on the aqua leather pair pictured below. Very comfortable, and there’s the rub, or lack of it. I found most of the shoes I tried on to be very easy to wear. Their footwear is particularly well padded, which in the case of their heels makes a massive difference. The increase in quality, compared to rivals like M&S is not reflected in the price. My shoes cost about £55.00, only £15.00 more than their equivalent in Marks but they were of far higher quality with a far better finish.
I caught myself looking around at the other customers, middle England was there as were the older clientele but the majority were stylish. The lady in front of me at the till bought 3 pairs of shoes, she was already clutching two or three large bags from Browns, a very directional designer boutique in South Molton Street. Cogitating upon this later it occurred to me that yes, surprisingly, you could actually accompany your Prada, Marc Jacobs and Marni with these shoes. And you probably wont end up with Beckhamesque bunions.