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

Fashion Quarterly - - Profile -

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.

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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.

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