“Old bush­men don’t need sav­ing,” Regi­nald Mur­ray Wil­liams wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Be­neath Whose Hands. “They mostly have had their share of hell and the only thing they crave is a loyal mate.” R.M. may have been talk­ing about the aver­sion he and his fel­low bushies had to trav­el­ling evan­ge­lists and their re­li­gious dogma, but much the same could be said of R.M. Wil­liams, the boot and ap­parel dy­nasty he founded in the Flin­ders Rangers in 1932.

Af­ter decades of fi­nan­cial flux the com­pany was res­cued in 1994 by for­mer News Corp boss and friend of R.M., Ken Cow­ley, who repri­va­tised the “Bush Out­fit­ter”. Af­ter an ini­tial 49.5 per cent ac­qui­si­tion by LVMHbacked L Cap­i­tal in 2013, the lat­ter pur­chased the brand al­most out­right in 2015 (lo­cal share­hold­ers, in­clud­ing Hugh Jack­man, re­port­edly still own mi­nor shares).

The L Cap­i­tal ac­qui­si­tion meant that R.M. Wil­liams would be saved, at least in a fis­cal sense. The ques­tion re­mained, though: how much of a “loyal mate” would the cashed-up but for­eign-owned L Cap­i­tal be to what is ar­guably Aus­tralia’s most iconic her­itage brand?

Pretty loyal so far, as it turns out. At the time of writ­ing L Cap­i­tal is build­ing an ad­di­tional boot­mak­ing work­shop in Salisbury, Ade­laide, to cater to an­tic­i­pated global de­mand as it ex­pands the busi­ness to the US, UK and Scan­di­navia. That’s a boost of con­fi­dence for R.M. Wil­liams’ skilled and multi­gen­er­a­tional Ade­laide work­force, many of whom have been work­ing there for decades.

To re­in­force its fash­ion cred­i­bil­ity L Cap­i­tal in­vested in Mel­bourne-born, Sav­ile Row-trained Jeremy Her­shan to be the brand’s new head of de­sign. The grand­son of a Vi­en­nese tai­lor who em­i­grated to Aus­tralia be­fore World War II and the son of rag traders, Her­shan ad­mits “the art of tai­lor­ing is in my blood”. He did his ap­pren­tice­ship un­der the cut­ters at Gieves & Hawkes at No. 1 Sav­ile Row, then worked at Bri­tish her­itage brands Aquas­cu­tum and Dun­hill, where he was se­nior de­signer.

It ar­guably wouldn’t have worked had L Cap­i­tal he­li­coptered in a hip­ster de­signer from Europe to take a blow­torch to R.M. Wil­liams. Aus­tralian Justin O’Shea did ex­actly that to Ro­man-born Bri­oni last year, at­tempt­ing to make a heavy metal bracelet from a silk purse. Shea’s short stint as cre­ative di­rec­tor at Bri­oni proved that, if any­thing, try­ing to change a her­itage brand’s DNA is fu­tile.

“I was given the keys to the ar­chives, the keys to the busi­ness in that sense”, says Her­shan, “so it was re­ally about rein­ter­pret­ing the brand. It’s all there. It just takes some­one with the right back­ground and skills to in­ter­pret it and make sure that it’s con­tem­po­rary. It’s not about repli­cat­ing a gar­ment stitch for stitch from the past. There are plenty of brands that do that. But for me it’s about rein­ter­pret­ing the past and mak­ing sure they are more con­tem­po­rary.”

One of the first things Her­shan did af­ter re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia in Novem­ber 2015 was book a flight to Ade­laide. “I wanted to go out and spend time in the work­shop and meet the mas­ter crafts­peo­ple,” he says. “Here at R.M. my de­sign process starts from the ground up, so I very much delved into ma­te­ri­als and fin­ishes ... just try­ing to un­der­stand the ca­pa­bil­i­ties within the plant, and what their spe­cial­i­ties are.”

Her­shan, who wore his brother’s hand-me-down R.M. Wil­liams boots on the job in Lon­don, ad­mits that see­ing the firm’s 150-odd boot-mak­ing ar­ti­sans was an “emo­tional” ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was awe-in­spir­ing just to see mas­ter crafts­peo­ple who hone one par­tic­u­lar prac­tice, one par­tic­u­lar mo­tion, one process. And they are so pas­sion­ate. There are peo­ple that have been work­ing there 40 years who re­ally are masters of their craft. It was ex­tremely in­spir­ing for some­one like me who has such an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for craft.”

Af­ter spend­ing time at the work­shop, where there are up to 90 pro­duc­tion stages for each stan­dard elas­tic­sided Crafts­man boot, Her­shan headed to the ad­dress he refers to as “ground zero”. Percy Street is the home bought by R.M.’s fa­ther, a horse man, in the 1920s, and where R.M. first set up his com­mer­cial work­shop. To­day it’s the brand’s mu­seum, with archived prod­uct dat­ing back to the 1930s. “I just rolled up my sleeves for two days and be­gan pulling out pieces that I thought would in­form the fu­ture of the brand,” Her­shan says. “As a great lover of her­itage brands, it was a ma­jor draw­card for me. The most in­spir­ing as­pect of a brand with any his­tory is their ar­chive and it’s the best pos­si­ble start­ing point for the de­sign process. It’s a lit­tle bit clichéd, be­cause there are plenty of brands around the world with lots of his­tory, but what was ap­peal­ing to me was that it’s a very unique his­tory that R.M. Wil­liams has. I’m a great lover of vin­tage prod­uct and vin­tage menswear and there are de­tails within some of these gar­ments that are truly unique to the brand.”

One gar­ment Her­shan picked up was the orig­i­nal leather drover’s coat that R.M. made in the 1930s. Her­shan turned it in­side and out, not­ing the beau­ti­ful pocket de­tail­ing, the stitch count, the lin­ings and the sub­tle curves — all very much born from func­tion, for stock­men and women hop­ping on and off a horse.

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