IN CONVERSATION WITH DARREN MCKOY, CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF DR. MARTENS
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari
Darren McKoy, better known as DMac, is a talented designer and the new Creative Director of Dr. Martens. From Sheffield, England, it was his passion for football as a child that led him to discover his true vocation: fashion. He has worked for prestigious brands such as Adidas, North Face and Asics, and has skilfully juggled their heritage with high performance. With Dr. Martens, he embodies the skillful fusion of past and present, navigating through underground cultures and artisanal craftsmanship. We had the great honor of meeting him for the 10th anniversary of the iconic Jadon boots.
You became creative director of Dr. Martens in March 2022. What is your personal history with Dr. Martens? Is it a brand you grew up with?
I come from Sheffield, a working-class city that was deeply influenced by the music scene: two-tone music, scar, Trojan records, and the early Skinhead movement, all from a fashion perspective. My uncle was actively involved in that scene, and he became my first style icon. I distinctly remember seeing him wearing a pair of Cherry Red 1460 boots, and he looked absolutely amazing in them. That image had an immediate impact on me. When I started attending school around the age of 11 or 12, I wanted a pair of shoes that reflected that style, so my mom bought me a pair of black 1460 boots. Those boots became an integral part of my upbringing and have remained a constant presence in my life ever since.
You cut your teeth at Adidas Originals, Asics Tiger Onitsuka and The North Face, so you were more in the sportswear/urban universe, before joining Dr. Martens. Why did you take this turn?
That’s a great question, and what’s interesting about it is, as you pointed out, my experience with those renowned brands allowed me to appreciate and consider their rich heritage. Each of these brands has a long history of maintaining their authenticity and excelling in what they do best. Whether it’s the original styles of Adidas setting trends in football or The North Face dominating the outdoor space, or even the fundamentals of performance running for Asics, all these brands have established themselves as leaders in their respective domains.
Having worked in that industry for many years alongside some of the industry’s finest professionals, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge that is transferable. This experience has opened up opportunities for me to explore new avenues and step outside the realm of sports. Transitioning into the world of footwear, particularly in the realm of traditional brown shoe brands, has provided me with a fresh perspective and a chance to connect with new consumers. It’s truly fascinating to shift from sports-focused endeavors and delve into a realm that prioritizes real boots and their unique appeal.
It can be a challenge to stay pertinent and groundbreaking for a brand that has been on the scene for six decades. How do you keep it relevant?
I have been part of this company for eight years, and it’s fascinating to see individuals who have been here for 20 or 30 years. Throughout all this time, one thing has remained consistent—the iconic boot. For six decades, the brand has stayed true to its essence, serving as a timeless canvas for self-expression. However, what has evolved are the various movements and subcultures that have surrounded the brand over the years.
From the early days of rocks, goths, punk, grunge, to the transition into the 90s and Y2K era, the boots have remained unchanged. It’s the culture, music, and environment surrounding them that have evolved. Yet, the boots have always provided individuals with a means to express themselves authentically. They haven’t needed to change fundamentally, except to adapt and cater to the diverse needs and preferences of consumers, buyers, and wearers. This adaptability has allowed the brand to remain relevant.
“The Jadon boot plays an important role in music. Pop, grunge, progressive and alternative. The boot empowers artists who really embrace the brand.”
– Darren McKoy, Creative Director.
Moreover, collaboration and innovation have played a crucial role in keeping the brand’s DNA and heritage fresh. We continue to work with different brands, execute new ideas, and introduce product innovations. This approach ensures that the brand remains dynamic and in touch with the ever-evolving expressions of self.
In recent years, we have expanded into new spaces, taking the brand’s DNA and heritage beyond boots. We’ve explored sandals, delving deeper into casual categories, and ventured into exciting territories. One example is the Jadon boot, which we have developed and expanded, utilizing the brand’s DNA to create new platforms for self-expression.
To challenge the brand and keep pushing the boundaries, Dr. Martens has always been fond of collaborations indeed. Raf Simons, Cold Wall, Heaven by Marc Jacobs or Rick Owens… What would be your dream collaborations and why?
That’s a truly complicated question, and I must admit it’s quite challenging to answer because we’ve had some exceptional collaborations thus far. However, if we look to the future, I believe an intriguing avenue to explore would be how our brand can engage even more closely with local young communities and artists. What I mean by that is, finding ways to immerse ourselves in new spaces like Milan and Paris, working directly with street consumers and fostering expressions that go beyond the physical product itself. It’s about creating moments and events that embody the core values of Dr. Martens, sparking conversations about giving back and building a stronger, more impactful message that propels the brand into the future.
As we discussed earlier, the brand’s growth has largely been driven by word-of-mouth within communities connected to it. So, the question becomes: How can we achieve that same sense of connection and resonance in today’s ever-evolving landscape, moving beyond the digital realm and into something truly organic and authentic? This is where collaboration becomes key. How can we collaborate with our wearers and consumers, engaging with them on a deeper level within their own spaces? This exploration holds immense potential for creating meaningful partnerships and capturing the essence of what Dr. Martens stands for.
How would you describe the importance of the Jadon boots to the Dr. Martens brand? And in your opinion, how did the Jadon boot differ from the 1460 boots while retaining the Dr. Martens DNA?
So, the Jadon boots and the 1460 do have notable differences. There are multiple aspects in terms of their construction, appearance, and overall characteristics. However, what remains constant is that both boots are fundamentally about empowerment. Empowerment is inherent to the essence of Dr. Martens as a brand. Yet, the Jadon boots take it a step further by providing wearers with an elevated platform, instilling a greater sense of empowerment and self-expression compared to the 1460 boots. This uniqueness adds an extra layer of distinction to the Jadon boots.
You can observe the differences in the stitching, the two-tone groove sidewall, and the undersold tread pattern. The overall shape, look, and feel of the boot contribute to its distinctive identity and DNA. However, on a seasonal basis, we make deliberate efforts to differentiate them in terms of treatment, targeting different consumer segments. When you examine the collections, the way we design and develop the products, you’ll notice that each boot has its own attitude in terms of treatment. The Jadon boots are infused with alternative and bold expressions through materials and seasonal treatments, whereas the 1460 boots embrace a slightly wider reach.
This is how we address their unique purposes and allocate them distinct spaces within our collection, allowing them to evolve while maintaining their individuality.
Do you think the Jadon will ever replace the iconic 1460?
I’m not entirely sure if the Jadon boots will ever replace the classic boot, as the classic boot is the foundation that has shaped the essence of the brand. What I mean by that is the classic boot provides us with the freedom to explore and expand into new territories. It has paved the way for our entry into various spaces, such as sandals and other new areas. The Jadon boots, on the other hand, are carving their own path, creating a distinct space for itself.
There are individuals who exclusively wear the Jadon boots and don’t opt for the 1460, or they may wear the Jadon boots without the 1461. It ultimately comes down to personal preferences and how each boot meets their specific needs. Some may find that the classic boot fulfills their requirements, while others may have Jadon boots in their wardrobe alongside a sandal or a loafer. This differentiation caters to different types of consumers. However, our goal is for individuals to engage with the brand, connect with its DNA, and explore various aspects of what we offer.
These two boots serve as entry points, allowing consumers to experience the brand in their own unique ways.
From chains to straps to zips… you continue to create iconic and exclusive designs. How do you always come up with so many ideas to implement Jadon shoes?
It’s one of the most challenging tasks to accomplish, in my opinion. When asked the question, the first thing that comes to mind is how to maintain the relevance of the 1460 or the Jadon boot. It involves working with something that holds immense heritage and history, and is considered almost perfect in its purest form. It’s a delicate balance because you want to avoid any missteps or compromises. So the challenge for our teams is to stay true to the core essence and DNA of the boot, while exploring new spaces that we feel comfortable with.
The challenge lies in seeking inspiration from how our wearers embrace the boot. We observe the construction, application, and embellishment choices they make. Simultaneously, we delve into our archives to study specific details that help anchor the boot in the realm of Dr. Martens. This approach ensures that the boot remains deeply rooted in its heritage.
Furthermore, we invest considerable time in refining and analyzing both boots, particularly the Jadon boot. We seek ways to progress season after season. This not only keeps it fresh and relevant but also safeguards its integrity. We need to strike a balance and avoid rushing the process, as there is an ongoing process of solidifying the Jadon boot’s reputation over the next few years. The goal is to maintain its authenticity and classic status as it has been known for.
With the Jadon boots, once you put it on, it imbues you with a feeling of strength and confidence. It’s like saying, “Today, I’m strong, and no one can mess with me.” This attitude exudes a powerful sense of resilience and defiance, which is truly remarkable.Darren McKoy
How do you imagine the Jadon pair in 10 years?
I do believe that the boot will certainly undergo an evolution and transformation. By that, I mean we will consistently invest in advancing the materialization and exploring different methods to enhance the platform itself and the overall appearance of the outsole. This could involve utilizing various colors, treatments, and techniques while still preserving its fundamental DNA and unmistakable boot-like aesthetics. We aim to push the boot into new realms by experimenting with different strappings, iterations, and treatments that maintain the recognizable essence of the Jadon boot.
In this way, the boot will continue to embody its original form, just as the 1460 did back in 1960. However, you can expect to witness numerous additional variations as well. That’s precisely why collaborations and partnerships become significant, as they provide a canvas for expression and allow us to venture into fresh domains. We have some exciting collaborations planned for the end of this year, which will help shape the narrative for the next decade.
How do you hope the wearers of the Jadon boot will feel when they wear this model?
I recently had conversations with a few consumers, including those I met in New York and Seoul during consumer insights sessions. It was interesting to hear their feedback and the recurring sentiment that wearing the boot instills a sense of strength and empowerment. This effect was not necessarily intended, but it’s something the boot and the brand naturally evoke in people. Whether it’s the Jadon boots or other products, which feature a platform, many wearers express feeling an extra boost of strength, height, empowerment, durability, and resilience.
It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? Not many products can provide such an elevated sense of performance. For instance, when you wear football boots or running shoes, you expect to run faster or score more goals. Similarly, with the Jadon boots, once you put it on, it imbues you with a feeling of strength and confidence. It’s like saying, “Today, I’m strong, and no one can mess with me.” This attitude exudes a powerful sense of resilience and defiance, which is truly remarkable. These are the general sentiments we often hear from our consumers.