FROM DUST WE CAME
Heritage brand R.M. Williams turns 85 this year, and with a new head of design at the helm, it’s in good hands. We spoke to Jeremy Hershan following the release of his second collection
R.M.Williams is an iconic heritage brand and a huge part of Australian outback culture. How did it begin? Reginald Murray Williams founded the brand in 1932. At the time, he recognised the need in Australia for a hard-wearing product that could endure the harsh climate of the outback. He spent months adapting a single piece of leather, determined to create boots that would withstand the rigorous conditions. In 1934, he published an advertisement for his elastic-sided boots in a local newspaper, Adelaide’s Chronicle, and people started to make their way to 5 Percy Street in [Adelaide suburb] Prospect, the location of our original workshop and now the location of one of our stores and museum.
Having worked overseas for the majority of your career, what was it like coming back to Australia to work for
R.M.Williams? I had always been a customer and admirer of the brand. Living in London, I’d wander into the store on New Bond Street from time to time to order myself a new pair of boots. Being obsessive about quality, the sense of craftsmanship and provenance greatly appealed to me. When the opportunity arose to play the lead creative role in R.M.Willliams’ next chapter, I jumped at the chance. It posed an extraordinary opportunity to help reshape one of Australia’s most-loved brands.
What was your approach when it came to immersing
yourself in it? When I first joined R.M.Williams, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to the birthplace of the brand, to the heart of [South Australia’s] Flinders Ranges to see where it all began. It’s an incredibly spiritual place, a place where time has effectively stood still. I spent several days camping out, sleeping under the stars, drinking in the colour, the landscape, the light and the folklore. It was incredibly refreshing after almost a decade abroad, and an experience that helped shape my view of this unique brand and its heritage. After that visit, I spent time in the Percy Street store, digging through the archives. This was the starting point for the design process.
You trained at Melbourne’s RMIT University, then worked in Antwerp, and have held roles at London’s Gieves & Hawkes, Aquascutum and Alfred Dunhill. What elements of your European experience do you bring to this
position? It’s been my ambition to instil a sense of DNA in each new product I design. [But] as with any great heritage brand, the challenge becomes how to translate [that history] into something that’s relevant for today’s market. Take the Sydney boot, a new style that’s part of the spring/summer18 collection, which is built with a lowered shaft height, a neater, more refined toe profile and an overall lighter weight [for] more transeasonal appeal. The inspiration [for this stemmed] from my learnings overseas, where seasonality plays a far bigger role. What is it about R.M.Williams’ footwear that allows it to traverse the divide between utility and fashion? Like any fashion item that has reached iconic status, R.M.Williams’ elastic-sided boots never go out of style. The timeless appeal lies in the purity of design and the dedication to craftsmanship.
R.M.Williams boots are famously made from a single
piece of leather. What are the benefits of this? It’s a luxurious method of boot-making and also the most challenging. The benefits are a refined elegance to the overall line — there’s virtually no stitching, with only one seam hidden at the back — and a superior fit.
Your two R.M.Williams collections have been inspired
by photographers. Do the arts resonate with you? I like to draw on a [different] inspiration for each collection. In addition to the brand archives, I’ve looked to Australian artists and photographers whose work shares an affinity with the brand. For spring/summer18, I delved into the back catalogue of photojournalist Jeff Carter. Carter’s work saw him track back and forth across this great continent for a period of 50 years, capturing the distinctive character of the outback, the cities and the beaches. There’s a raw, visceral beauty and a true sense of adventure that pervades his work [that has provided] direction for the mood, colour and rugged visual language that informs this collection.
“Like any fashion item that has reached iconic status, R.M.Williams’ boots never go
out of style”
What’s your key boot style for SS18? The seasonal footwear statement [the Archive boot, available online from September 18] is a reimagining of a Stockman’s ‘slinky top’ boot from the 1960s. The boot has been hand-crafted in our Adelaide workshop from chrome tanned, waxed and tumbled leather that was developed exclusively in New Zealand.
Below: R.M.Williams’ head of design, Jeremy Hershan. “A combined focus on craftsmanship, DNA and provenance are what lends the brand global appeal,” he says. “The beauty of the most iconic styles is that they hold as much relevance in the country as they do the big smoke.” Bottom: A look from the new SS18 collection (left), and the new Archive boot.