R.M. BOOTS ARE WORN BY DROVERS AS WELL AS DIG­NI­TARIES. NEARLY EVERY PRIME MIN­IS­TER HAS GIVEN APAIR TO THEIR FOR­EIGN EQUIV­A­LENT ANDEVEN THE BRI­TISH ROYALS ARE FANS.

GQ (Australia) - - THE GQ FASHION -

The brand’s dom­i­nant prod­uct line has been up­dated, now com­pris­ing al­most 30 core boot styles – in­clud­ing this year’s re­lease of a men’s laceup, the ‘Rick­aby’. Sit­ting back in an over­sized leather chair, tak­ing in a sip of wa­ter and the un­par­al­leled views, Vup­pala­p­ati says there are no plans to in­crease off­shore pro­duc­tion to align with the in­creased tar­gets. In­stead, he’s keen to re­vi­talise the lo­cal op­er­a­tion and lure new tal­ent to meet the ex­panded fore­casts. “Our crafts­man­ship was in­vented here and we want to be sure to strengthen that ca­pa­bil­ity when more and more [busi­nesses] are shut­ting down... Sal­is­bury and the Ade­laide work­shop are fun­da­men­tal to our suc­cess, and I can’t see how we can achieve our global am­bi­tions if we don’t have that strong ground­ing here, in this part of the world. So, we have to have growth and we have to be able to sup­ply that. And we’ll do what­ever it takes to en­gage the right peo­ple and con­tinue to en­sure we in­vest in build­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties [of what] that plant can do.”

The story of R.M. Wil­liams (few used his full name) reads rather sim­ply. Born in South Australia in 1908, he packed a swag and took off for the out­back, aged 15. He worked as a labourer, stock­man and camel han­dler, cov­er­ing vast dis­tances as part of over­land expedition par­ties sur­vey­ing swathes of desert. He en­gaged with lo­cal Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties and learnt to live off the land. Then, in 1931, a chance meet­ing with a lo­cal stock­man by the name of ‘Dol­lar Mick’ saw RM in­tro­duced to work­ing with leather. Mick wanted RM to shape a pair of boots, so they adopted elas­ti­cated sides and RM’S unique ap­proach of us­ing a sin­gle piece of leather that was then stitched at the back. The boots found a firm re­gional fol­low­ing – and so, dur­ing the height of the Great De­pres­sion, RM took out an ad in a re­gional pa­per of­fer­ing elas­ti­cated, made-to-mea­sure boots for 20 shillings. In­ter­est­ingly, Vup­pala­p­ati high­lights that same ‘be­spoke’ abil­ity as key to en­gag­ing the US mar­ket – es­pe­cially the feet of the wealthy and white-col­lared types in and around Soho. “We can man­u­fac­ture them in Ade­laide and have them turned around in four to eight weeks – and no one else in the world does that.” To­day, a classic R.M. Wil­liams boot will set you back nearly $500 (and up to $1000) and can be seen on ev­ery­one from drovers to in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries. Nearly every former Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter has handed a pair to an in­ter­na­tional equiv­a­lent while Bri­tish royals Wil­liam and Kate are also said to be fans. Then there’s the new crowd, the hip­sters who’ve ‘found’ the brand after eye­ing them off in niche fash­ion ed­i­to­ri­als that have been grow­ing in vis­i­bil­ity the past 12 months. Else­where, 2016 has seen the brand en­gage new Aus­tralian con­nec­tions, sign­ing on to pro­vide boots to Qan­tas pi­lots while also be­com­ing the of­fi­cial boot­maker to the Wal­la­bies rugby union team. It then se­cured the back­ing of one Hugh Jack­man – a long-time fan who last De­cem­ber be­came a pri­vate in­vestor in the com­pany. Vup­pala­p­ati won’t de­tail that as­so­ci­a­tion – “he be­lieves in the story as an in­vestor and we love that re­la­tion­ship, but we also want to re­spect that pri­vacy” – but he’s happy to talk up the re­la­tion­ship with ac­claimed Dan­ish/aus­tralian artist Mika Ut­zon Popov. The grand­son of Sydney Opera House ar­chi­tect Jørn Ut­zon, the 45-year-old will un­veil sev­eral striking sculp­tural pieces to hang in the New York store. “As soon as I got the ques­tion [about want­ing to col­lab­o­rate] I was in,” says Ut­zon Popov. “Be­cause they have this story and this her­itage and it seems part of the cul­ture... See­ing the crafts­man­ship at the fac­tory was in­cred­i­ble and, from my per­spec­tive, that was an easy tran­si­tion to work with them;

[it’s] about craft and how we marry those things to­gether in an ab­stract ex­pres­sion.” That ex­pres­sion will come to­gether as six con­crete pan­els, each in­spired by a unique part of the Aus­tralian land­scape. “My main in­spi­ra­tion is al­ways na­ture, pri­mar­ily about light and the way it moves across the world in which we live. Land­scape is not a fixed image – it’s about mov­ing through it, be­cause you don’t come back with an image, you come back with a se­ries of move­ments and they’re gen­er­ally in­formed by light; it’s how we per­ceive scale and dis­tance.” The as-yet-un­named pieces – four pan­els to line the wall of the re­tail space with an­other two to sit in the win­dow – are an amal­ga­ma­tion of var­i­ous Aus­tralian re­gions. “There’s a lit­tle bit of the [NSW re­gion of] Hawkes­bury, there’s a lit­tle bit of the sand dunes from up near [NSW midnorth coast town of] Hawks Nest and some moun­tain ranges from the [NSW] South­ern High­lands. It’s sort of try­ing to amal­ga­mate those into one with­out be­ing too dis­tinct or too spe­cific – given the di­ver­sity of where peo­ple come from in Australia, I’m hop­ing they’ll be able to pick out el­e­ments that re­mind them of home or where they are. “And what I like about leather is that things get bet­ter with age and with marks, and the thing with con­crete is that every time some­one runs their hands across it, it leaves some­thing. So, 10 years from now, that sculp­ture will look very dif­fer­ent – it will age and have a dif­fer­ent patina to it, able to age the same way sto­ries are worn across the sur­face [of rocks].” The pieces ac­cen­tu­ate the po­si­tion RM is eye­ing off – a brand of rugged el­e­gance that de­liv­ers lux­ury el­e­ments, even if, as Vup­pala­p­ati says, “our nails are dirty,” from toil­ing to main­tain the sense of tra­di­tion. “For me, the rich­ness of this brand is that it can be worn by peo­ple in the out­back, on the farm, it can be worn in the board­rooms. It’s some­thing that’s so unique and that draws cus­tomers to the core of what this com­pany is all about, and also re­flects what Australia is all about,” says Vup­pala­p­ati. “There is a rugged­ness in the nar­ra­tive and this brand re­flects that – you can wear RMS on the week­end and you can wear them in the evening, with a beau­ti­ful tuxedo. That’s why we be­lieve that what we have to of­fer is not just about the prod­uct, it’s about the essence of what this coun­try is about – that rugged el­e­gance, ease of style, con­fi­dence about who we are and con­fi­dence in what we can do. If you look at most brands that have op­er­ated in the space of time we have, they can’t com­pare to our her­itage of more than 80 years, and [the fact it still] res­onates to­day. When peo­ple talk about R.M. Wil­liams, they talk pas­sion­ately. The re­spect and love, the per­sonal own­er­ship and the pride that peo­ple have for this brand is a great, great strength – I think oth­ers, who’ve come from dif­fer­ent parts of the world man­ag­ing other brands, would die to have that sense of con­sumer own­er­ship.” R.M. Wil­liams opens its New York flag­ship on Septem­ber 3; 152 Spring St, Soho; rmwilliams.com.au

FROM LEFT: A YOUNG RM, OUT IN THE EL­E­MENTS AND FIRMLY IN HIS EL­E­MENT; LATER IN LIFE, AFTER BUILD­ING AN OUT­BACK EM­PIRE AND ICONIC BRAND.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM BELOW: FI­NAL DE­SIGNS OF THE NEW YORK FLAG­SHIP STORE; ART­WORK FROM FAMED ARTIST AND SCULP­TOR UT­ZON POPOV.

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