Timberland’s six-inch work boot is the one item that appears in every corner of any city you care to mention. You are just as likely to spot a pair of them trekking through the peaks and valleys of Soho’s shopping options or at the bar as you are on a construction site or stomping through the slush of a snowstorm. Now, the boots have been caught in the riptide of fashion, redesigned—and slapped with $1,300 pricetags—by brands like Vetements, Louis Vuitton, Heron Preston, and Off-White, which collaborated directly with Timberland in 2018.
Even though these brands have spun out their own versions of the work boots, they also make the best case the iconic shoe needs no tinkering at all. Vetements’s version is made in Italy with “soft suede” and Louis Vuitton’s features its monogram across the cuff, but it’s immediately clear that these shoes are indebted to the design of the Timberland. These brands have faithfully redesigned the boot—but there’s no need to change an icon, right?
Taking a made-for-the-masses product and gently placing it on a high-fashion pedestal has become standard practice for luxury brands. For a better part of last decade, most of that effort was aimed at taking a grail sneaker, applying a dash of runway-level design, and sticking it with a head-spinning price. Think of Saint Laurent's take on the Jordan 1, Alexander McQueen’s puffy Stan Smith, or Rick Owens’s homage to the Nike Dunk. These shoes were a natural extension of what was happening already in the sneaker community: the very best and rarest, far removed from their sporty roots, had more in common with precious fashion items or even trophies made to sit on shelves.
There is something a little funnier about fashion’s new fetishization of Timberland’s classic work boot. A Saint Laurent Jordan was still, basically, a sneaker, while the made-in-Italy soft-suede versions of the six-inch aren’t exactly fit for sloshing through snow or a work zone. (They can step in more capably for linking and building with the boys or constructing fall/winter 2020 looks.)
The new fashion-ized Timberlands also speak to what I see as a growing high-fashion apathy for sneakers. The most recent shoes walking the runway followed the familiar template of taking the common-man’s icon and putting it through the high-fashion generator—but remade sneakers are fewer and farther between.
Timberland Men's 6-Inch Basic Waterproof Boots With Padded CollarCourtesy of Timberland
Instead, JW Anderson is reworking the Birkenstock, embellishing it with a chunky gold link. Vetements, Maison Margiela, and Off-White have all either shown or released their version of thong flip-flops, because life’s a beach when you’re wearing $500 sandals. Prada, ever ahead of the curve, was turning out high-end Blundstones years ago, and Gucci now makes its own luxurious version of the Australian leather boots. Raf Simons, meanwhile, found a middle ground: splicing together sleek leather boots with heels grafted from sneakers. (Of course, sneakers are still outrageously popular within culture at large.)
While these recent examples represent a departure from designers’ sneaker obsessions, they are still working in service of a project that began with those high-end Jordans and Stan Smiths. For so long, the world of fashion operated from the top down, ushering in new trends and dictating what would be worn by everyday folks six, 12, and 18 months from now. (If Miranda Priestly’s Cerulean Sweater speech taught us anything, it’s this.) But both the high-end sneaker and the high-end 6-inch boot are evidence of designers’ relatively newfound willingness to take cues from outside the fashion bubble—fashion’s New Deal is all about trickle-up design. Everybody in Soho dresses like this now, even if he’s your local hard-hat wearing style icon.