British footwear brand Clarks was one of the earliest proponents of shoes with crepe soles, made from the coagulated sap of the rubber tree. Produced since the 1950s, its desert boot, with a lace-up suede upper and lightweight crepe sole, was designed by Nathan Clark, who was inspired by a boot he had seen while serving in the Army during the second world war. Desert boots, which were popularised by mods in the 1960s, have been a key part of the Clarks business since, and the brand is launching a new version with leather uppers (£100), instead of traditional suede, in various cool hues. Similar styles this season include Crockett & Jones’ Hartland II suede desert boots (£355) with an elongated last shape; the kudu-suede Monty desert boot (£425) from Tricker’s, which comes in light- and dark brown suede and has a welted construction for added durability; and Private White VC’s collaboration with Northampton shoemaker Sanders & Sanders on a slightly lower-rise style (£199), as worn by Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
Crepe lends itself well to other boot styles, such as Tricker’s kudu-suede Leo (£425), which is a lace-up shooting style that rises to the lower calf. The material also works with sleek Chelsea boots: Saint Laurent’s Nino style (£650), in beige, bronze or black suede, has a thin sole and leather-covered elasticated sides; Bottega Veneta’s Voortrekking boot (£535) in camel, navy, slate-grey or espresso suede has distinctive stitching; and Common Projects’ suede Chelsea boots (£410) in beige and olive green, complete with the brand’s signature serial number stamped on the side. John Lobb’s new Evett boot (£605) in black, chestnut or grey suede is a take on the classic Chelsea style, but with a contrasting white crepe rubber sole. Artistic director Paula Gerbase says she uses the material because of its flexibility. “It has an irregular surface and spongy texture, which means it’s both comfortable and shock‑absorbing.”
Crepe soles are also applied to low-cut shoes, in both casual and smarter styles. Christian Louboutin’s glossy Edgar shoe (£845) is eye-catchingly slick, and I particularly enjoy the brand’s shiny black and white leather Bernard penny loafers (£875), as well as Grenson’s honey suede Booker tassel loafers (£235). John Lobb’s Drift derby shoe (£1,110), in indigo or grey suede, perfectly marries smart with casual, as does Ami’s beige or cognac suede derby (£360) with thick crepe soles and a large welt. Crockett & Jones’ Flore III (£390) combines the structure and formality of a double monk strap with the comfort of a crepe rubber sole – as does Santoni’s buckle Dip style (€490), with the addition of a kiltie flap and brogue detailing. The Italian footwear brand’s lace-up Dip style exists somewhere between a trainer and a shoe, for those who want a smarter take on a sneaker. This sporty version comes in blue leather (€460) and beige or tan suede (€430), with padding around the ankle and contrasting crepe soles.
As well as the desert boot, another key influence on today’s crepe sole styles is the brothel creeper, which was commercialised by British footwear brand George Cox in 1949. The label’s original Hamilton style, with its rounded toe shape, was preferred by Teddy boys, while the pointed-toe Mersey style was favoured by rockers. “Both of these have a distinctive, pronounced wall of a sole,” says CEO Adam Waterfield, “which was quite an aggressive look and, as such, appealed to the subcultures that adopted them.” The brand continues to create versions of its original styles – my favourites include the all-white Gibson creeper (£250) and the red suede monk strap with braiding (£250). This season, Oliver Spencer has made a direct interpretation of the original creeper in black, grey or hazel suede (£249) with D-ring lace details and quilted top. Similarly, Berluti’s Andy Demesure penny loafer, in glazed white and black (£980) or mixed patina leather (£1,180), has a rippled, creeper-inspired crepe sole. Whether smart or casual, these newest applications of crepe soles provide lightweight options for the summer.