Modernist Iconology: Clarks Originals x 6876

Designer and 6876 founder Kenneth Mackenzie explains the philosophy behind his Desert Boot and Trek footwear collaboration with Clarks Originals

© Brian Sweeney, Derive
© Brian Sweeney, Derive

Kenneth Mackenzie is a bit of a ‘designer’s designer’. His 6876 brand, although a modernist cult institution, is more of an industry secret than a high street staple. But when it started in 1995, 6876 fitted in perfectly with the ‘look of the day’ and Mackenzie, a former Duffer of St George designer, was part of the zeitgeist.

As often is the case when a brand – or any artist for that matter – grows too big too quickly, the initial reason and purpose for the set up can become blurry. That’s how Mackenzie saw it, so he decided to radically scale back his label. Today, 6876 runs outside of the traditional fashion trajectory: no wholesaling, small trans-seasonal runs, collaborations with obscure Japanese designers and the occasional flash sale for loyal customers.

Mackenzie enjoys hardcore support from a (relatively) small group of fans and these days there’s a strict ‘quality over quantity’ methodology to all his work. His latest project, a two-part collaboration with Clarks Originals, is testament to that.

Teaming up with the classic British footwear brand, Mackenzie has focused his attention on two styles – the iconic Desert Boot and the slightly more obscure Trek style – and re-appropriated them in 6876-relevant materials. To coincide with the launch of the suede styles, and ahead of the leather versions due for release in February 2016, Mackenzie worked on a short film, from which these stills were taken.

Here, he explains his fascination with Clarks, what constitutes a healthy collaboration and defines his take on modernism.

© Brian Sweeney, Derive
© Brian Sweeney, Derive

“A good collab has to be believable and have a plausible link between the brands. In fact, at 6876, we have worked on collaborations since the year 2000 and I think we have kept to that promise. This time around it was Christian Hilton, who’s an avid follower of both Clarks and 6876, that suggested the link up, so it was a very organic start to the project. Clarks are a British menswear staple, but its products are very simple and accessible as well. I wore them growing up as a way to subvert my boring school uniform with Desert Boots and cords. Recently I was lucky to get a pair of the UK-made 65th year anniversary Desert Boots made, which is a very nice version of the original.

“Clarks Originals, in their purest form, have a very low-tech feel that I think fits with 6876 aesthetically. The Desert Boot was an obvious choice as it’s just turned 65; I chose the Trek because when I started 6876 that shoe was released with a very small production run and, worn with early 6876 products, became a bit of a uniform for me. The whole concept was to subtly upgrade materials and finishes to create a more luxurious version. We introduced a premium veg-tanned runner board, leather laces and made the crepe sole a much lighter un-dyed colour. The suede we used was a premium quality from Steads of England, who provided the original suede 65 years ago.

© Brian Sweeney, Derive
© Brian Sweeney, Derive

“Modernism is an aesthetic approach rather than a style – it’s the quest to keep moving forward and investigate the development of products. It’s function and evolution, as opposed to mere styling. Clarks, at its inception, was actually quite a modern and progressive brand, as the ideas behind the Originals were garnered through travel and utility. The Clarks family travelled extensively, as you can see from the museum, and I think the resulting footwear was a product of that. Nowadays I see them more as a classic, British institution.”

Stills taken from ‘Derive’, a Clarks Originals x 6876 film directed by Brian Sweeney

Read Kenneth Mackenzie’s Soundtrack piece for PORT, and for more info on Clarks, click here