For this week’s mid-week special I’ve decided to stay out of the archives and discuss something new, because I need to discuss it now. It won’t wait until Saturday morning (so you might get an Archives Special then, we’ll see). I need to know what you all think urgently.
Anyway. It’s about these here shoes. I saw them in the window of Prada in London’s Bond Street and they literally stopped me in my tracks.
I immediately snapped this picture and posted it on Twitter with the following comment:
I think these are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen.
Quite a few people agreed with me. But then something happened: I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I kept turning the concept of them – the outrageous concept of marrying the brogue, with the espadrille, with the 80s trainer – over and over in my head, like sucking on a giant gobstopper.
And then I started to like them.
What they are, I’ve realised, is a hybrid clone shoe. The terrible experiment of an evil mad shoe professor, gone horribly wrong. A Frankenstein shoe, made of the body parts of other shoes and just as ugly and scary as that mythical monster.
They also make me think of that saying about God making the hyena out of all the spare parts he had left over from making all the other animals.
But what they finally are – and this was the clincher for me – is a brothel creeper. They are a brother creeper made out of bits of other iconic shoes. A hyena hybrid brothel creeper. Bring it on.
And I love brothel creepers. They are a properly iconic shoe and what makes them particularly interesting is their long-time association with youth sub-cultures.
They’re said to have developed after WW2 from the rubber-soled army desert boots, but first appeared in the style we know now in the 1950s made by George Cox of Northampton, the traditional centre of the British shoe industry. Thrillingly they’re still in Northampton and still making them.
Back then in the early 1950s, they were immediately adopted by Teddy Boys, becoming part of their classic rig out.
I first started wearing them in the late 1970s when I was a punk rocker. All cool punks wore creepers – see Mr John Lydon on the left here -which was ironic as Teddy Boys were our greatest enemies. But like everything great about punk it was naughty Malcolm McLaren’s idea. He and Vivienne used to sell creepers in their shop Let It Rock, which opened in 1971, so it was natural that the shoes became part of the dress code, when he invented British punk a few years later.
Although I think us stealing their shoe style was one of the things which pissed Teddy Boys off so much about us punks (and as these amazing pictures by Ben Watts show – you really don’t want to piss off a Teddy Boy…).
I wore them again in the 1980s – as did Bananarama, although maddeningly I can’t find a pic of them doing it – and last year the idea suddenly crept into my brain that it was time they came back into my life again.
Then, in the way of these synchronistic things, I was having my hair done back in the summer and I noticed that lovely Cetera (who does my colour at John Frieda, if you’re interested…), was wearing them.
Like me she is at the weenie beanie end of the height spectrum and we had a very satisfying chat about the genius walkable plus height-boosting combo that’s unique to a creeper. You can run in a creeper, be it for a bus, or from a Teddy Boy.
In my clubbing youth I used to walk from the Music Machine in Camden, all the way down to our squat in Clapham North at four in the morning without a second thought, in mine.
The same day I saw Cetera’s creepers, I discovered that the very excellent Office shoes were doing them (including a fine style featuring leopardskin), so this iconic shoe is definitely having another fashion moment – and Miuccia Prada is right on it as always.
So I now love the shoes I initially thought were the world’s ugliest. I love them for being a combo of four of my favourite shoe styles and for being so fabulously outrageously wrong. But I don’t think I’m game to wear them. I think I’m just a little too old to be quite so wacky.
But it’s never too late to wear a classic creeper. I’m going to the British Boot Company in Camden to score myself some black suede George Cox originals.