TROY: remembering the walking machines that built street rap, from Shaolin to Shropshire
CAT's Colorado boot was born in 1991 from a construction company nearly a century older and it shows. Full grain leather, steel toe caps, deep tread sole with a Goodyear welt, thick padded ankle and a digger on the heel, they drew on the aesthetic of the company's heavy equipment and were boldly tagged “Walking Machines”. The distinctive logo is blocky, black and yellow: the colour of a truck, hazards signs and – coincidentally - the Wu. High quality work boots were a staple shoe of East Coast rap acts like the Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep who were fastidious about ruggedness, and this special pivot between fashion and function quickly spread out all over the world through posters, music videos and album sleeves. A pair of honey-coloured toe caps and thick boot laces can already be spotted on “DJ Hands” in a 1990 Hip Hop Special on the BBC's 'The Clothes Show' and I can still remember older cousins pointing to the fact that CATs were so heavy to wear with real pride when we were growing up in the mid-90s.
What they didn't fully understand but inadvertently banked on was the fact that the boot was fashionable precisely because it was so functional. Similarly CAT boots, the walking machines, don't have to pander or prettify to make their impact felt. They are embraced because the silhouette equals heritage, hard-work and hard-wearing and other associations, welcome as they are, develop after.
As well as boots other established work wear brands at the time like Carhartt, Filson and the North Face became popular – clothes initially adopted by inner city street hustlers for their own “harsh work conditions”, passed down to people who looked up to them as independent, successful, local entrepreneurs then further out via pop culture. Companies like these were sometimes criticised for taking in record profits and not acknowledging a significant source of the increase but they maintained that they weren't ignoring black inner-city consumers but trying to protect the core legacy of their brands and prevent them succumbing to passing trends. What they indirectly hit on was the fact that their products were fashionable precisely because they were so functional. What they didn't fully understand but inadvertently banked on was the fact that the boot was fashionable precisely because it was so functional. Similarly CAT boots, the walking machines, don't have to pander or prettify to make their impact felt. They are embraced because the silhouette equals heritage, hard-work and hard-wearing and other associations, welcome as they are, develop after. A pair will look and act the same whether they have with premium denim or old trackies tucked into them, and you're still as likely to see them being reviewed by workers and outdoor enthusiasts (plus a significant community of fetishists) on Youtube as you are shown off on Instagram.
The designer Alex Mattsson used the Colorado's for his 'Chuco 2.0' men's AW13 collection because they are simple but strong enough to fix a cholo/punk/grunge mechanic look and Martine Rose, who's used the Sequoia model for previous collections before moving onto the combat boot supplier Bates in her most recent, really understands that their core appeal stems from their utilitarian history. Her collaborations with the brand play with their identity but keep it grounded: if she uses a premium fabric like wool she'll add a nylon ankle strap to beef it up and even a glossy pink and orange version will keep a thick sole and carry the original trade dress.
The boots – dependable, utilitarian, direct - act like a reverse statement item in the swaggy era, a foundation to assure that behind the front, the heart's ever steady and all real
Mattson's versatile approach and Rose's well-judged nostalgia ties back to cultural re-appreciation in wider contemporary pop culture, with people who grew up with the boot and styles like it increasingly incorporating them in their wardrobe. Striking a balance between an accurate representation of a time and culture and individual creativity is key and the boots are like the single unfuckwithable element that can anchor a daring look. A$AP Rocky's infamous “dress” on 106 and Park last year wouldn't have quite worked if he didn't have some classic 6” Timbs on and our own Rita Ora – who often dresses in a collage of predictable “bad bitch” signifiers – looked her best wearing a simple pair of all-black Colorados with a blue velvet dress on her way to a Brandy concert.
The boots – dependable, utilitarian, direct - act like a reverse statement item in the swaggy era, a foundation to assure that behind the front, the heart's ever steady and all real. CAT haven't felt the need to change in 22 years and, going forward, here's hoping it stays that way.