It was a tragedy that prompted the invention of the lugged rubber sole, by the Italian climber Vitale Bramani, in 1937. Bramani had lost six friends in a mountaineering accident two years before, and created a rutted, rugged, high-traction sole he hoped would help prevent such fatalities in future. But he could not have foreseen how its distinct tractor-tyre tread – branded Vibram – would become one of the most widely used shoe technologies for hikers, explorers and soldiers, including British commando units, which from 1940 lent it its unofficial moniker.
Vibram’s genius has not escaped luxury shoemakers, and this season the trend gathers pace. Tricker’s was using the commando sole as far back as the 1940s, and this winter’s Himalaya collection, inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1960s mountaineering expeditions, is made with shearling linings and commandos with a sandwiched white mid-sole. The Hardie brogue boot (£495) with hiking eyelets comes in burgundy, black and navy; the simple, clean-profiled Bishop (£495) evokes a Dr Martens eight-hole boot, while the Ottenburger (£495) has a motorcycle-boot-style gaiter cuff and straps, adding a dash of machismo. Corthay, meanwhile, deploys the commando sole for the new Aspen-inspired, patinated calfskin boot (£1,780) with ponyskin flanks in various colours.
Grenson always does chunky boots, and recently these have had commando soles and 1970s-style accents. The handpainted leather Fred boot (£220), with oversized punching and split welt sole, is a (literally) shining example. There’s also the toe-capped Derby Radley boot (£220) in black or tan burnished suede with natural-coloured welts. From Church’s comes an archetypal sturdy brogue boot, the McFarlane Highland (£395), with generous lines, enlarged eyelets and laces and a heavy grain texture – plus the shoe version, the McPherson Highland (£390).
Lugged soles don’t have to be heavy. Crockett & Jones has been making commandos since the 1950s, and for the handsome new Snowdon boot (£500) has employed the Veldtschoen construction method, where waxed leather is applied over the edge of the welted sole, then the whole sandwich is sheared off for a streamlined effect. At Gaziano & Girling, the Urban Commando boot (£1,380) in the Deco range has an elegantly shaped “cedar” grain leather upper cleat binding with a commando sole, which can be custom-ordered in a variety of skins, including exotics such as lizard (£2,190 bespoke).
Monkstrap styles are getting the all-terrain treatment too. John Lobb’s mottled plum or navy leather William II (£895) has a Goodyear welted construction with heavy lugged soles and an elegant, contemporary profile. Santoni is famed for remarkable patinas, hues and signature monkstraps, and this season it has combined
all three with commando soles to great effect. Witness a double-buckle ankle boot in hand-coloured deep-blue crocodile (€6,750), which has a Goodyear construction and latex sole. Sturdier and without the buckle is the bordeaux leather (€1,050) or polished brick-red crocodile Derby (€5,950) with hand-stitched sole and the hearty black or brick-red wingtip Derby (€495) with punched-hole detailing and latex sole.
Tod’s has gone big on commando soles this season. A chunky leather lace-up (£445) with distinctive wing-tip seaming comes in a semi-shine leather finish, or navy or tan suede (£415) with bold brogue punching and a brothel-creeper feel. In contrast, another shoe (£425) recalls a Clarks Wallabee (remember when this geography-teacher stalwart was made cool by northern lads like The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft?), using a welted commando sole instead of spongy crepe.
Using a light colour for a commando sole lends a certain softness to the style. Christian Louboutin’s smart wing-tip Oxford brogues (£865) in sand suede have a multilayer rubber sole with a band of the brand’s signature red. A more unexpected design is the dark-soled Oxford toe-cap (£865) with vamps in Glenn check, or burgundy or gold raffia.
Other fashion-forward brands with smart new interpretations on the commando include Antwerp-based WeberHodelFeder, which pairs the boot soles (£665) with graduated colour contour lines, and Alexander McQueen which employs dandy-esque flourishes such as equestrian buckle straps on a Chelsea boot (£790). Bramani’s invention still provides the sure-footed, all-terrain capability it always has; but let’s be clear – it’s style, not safety, that’s leading the design agenda.