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15

INNOVATE

“I was definitely what you would call ‘street’,

I was really into my music. I had the ‘Sta-

Prest’ Levi’s and button-down Ben Sherman

shirts but I never shaved my head, I wasn’t

a skinhead”

D

r Martens boots are synonymous

with punk, grunge, ska and

skinheads. So when the family

behind the anti-establishment brand sold out

to the private equity firm Permira, there were

fears that the buy-out barons would tame the

bootmaker’s rebellious spirit.

Three years on from the £300m deal,

cynics might expect that the new owner’s

choice of chief executive would be a Mayfair-

dwelling, pin-striped suit. But Steve Murray

looks more like a rock band’s roadie.

“I don’t dress the way a normal chief

executive dresses,” says Murray, 55, with

a sheepish smile in Dr Martens’s store in

Oxford Street, London. A shiny pair of

black Dr Martens Chelsea boots peek from

underneath his grey faded jeans, but it

quickly becomes evident that he is not just

putting on an appearance.

Raising his voice to be heard over the

shop’s jukebox, which is blaring out The

Smiths’ back catalogue, he reveals he has

another 15 pairs of boots in his collection.

“My first Dr Martens were bought over

35 years ago, a pair of 1460 lace-up, eight-

hole boots from an army surplus store in

Maidstone,” he says, his eyes glazing over as

he revisits the thrill of being part of ska and

2-tone youth culture. “I was definitely what

you would call ‘street’, I was really into my

music. I had the ‘Sta-Prest’ Levi’s and button-

down Ben Sherman shirts but I never shaved

my head, I wasn’t a skinhead. Although I

could pass for one now,” he says, laughing as

he gingerly rubs his balding head.

Murray says all this in a slightly gruff,

transatlantic sing-song accent – the product

of being born in Glasgow before moving

down to Kent aged 10 and living in California

for over two decades. He moved to the US

with Reebok in the late 1990s before spending

12 years as a brand director at the skate shoe

brand Vans, then working at Urban Outfitters

and lastly the Ugg boot owner, Deckers.

Despite Murray’s laid-back attitude,

it is clear that he has spent the best part

of the past two years doing some serious

heavy lifting to overhaul the company after

Permira’s purchase of it from the Griggs

family.

“It had been run as a family business and

there were things that needed to change,”

Murray says.

A German doctor, Klaus Maertens,

came up with the idea of an air-filled sole to

cushion a broken foot after a skiing accident.

He went into partnership with Herbert

Funck, who had experience in plastics and

machinery, to start making footwear to

Maertens’s design, and the duo’s orthopaedic

shoes quickly took off in Germany.

The Yorkshire-based cobbler Bill Griggs

had struck a deal in the late 1950s when

Griggs saw the opportunity to use the air-

cushioned sole on a simple, black working

men’s boot. The yellow stitching in his initial

design has become one of what Murray

calls “DM’s red lines”: they make the brand

instantly recognisable in the same way as

Nike’s Swoosh.

Since the first pair of Dr Martens rolled

off the production line in Wollaston,

Northamptonshire, the boots have been

embraced by generations of rock stars

and their devoted fans. “People define Dr

Martens according to their generation and

1980's group

Jo Boxers

wearing

Dr. Martens

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