Death from a Brogue

Report On Business, June 2007

In 2005, when Derrick and Kirk Miller launched Barker Black, a line of handmade shoes and accessories, friends were hardly surprised by the career move. Growing up in Minnesota, the boys observed on Sundays as their father selected a few of his 50-odd pairs of mostly British-made, bespoke shoes and shined them as he watched the Vikings game. (An eccentric dandy, Mr. Miller often changed his outfit three times a day, even though he worked from home.)

Now 33 and 28, Derrick and Kirk have surely made Papa proud. Their line of British-made shoes, as well as ties, pocket squares and suspenders, arrived in Canada this spring at Holt Renfrew. Each item is distinguished by the brand’s rebellious icon: a skull and bones inspired by a swatch Derrick found in an old silk factory. The logo belonged to the 17th Lancer Division, a 19th-century English military regiment whose motto was “Or glory,” the implicit alternative being death. “The regiment was known for its dress prowess, arrogance and a little bit of rebellion,” says Derrick. “They stood for everything that we wanted our line to stand for.”

The brand’s historical connections are not merely aesthetic; the shoes are assembled at the Barker factory in Northamptonshire, England, a 127-year-old facility that affirms the notion that British shoes are still the world’s best. The factory uses Goodyear welting, an ultra-durable method of bonding the uppers to the welt, rather than directly to the sole. The advantage: Unlike your Gucci loafers, resoling a pair of Barker Blacks is easy and eminently worthwhile (not that you’ll need to for a decade or two).

With such a subversive take on a classic shoe, the brothers anticipated their clientele would be largely under 40, but Barker Blacks are resonating with an older crowd as well. This may be due, in part, to the price tag-they start at $795-but it’s also a testament to how subtly the distinctive detailing blends with the style, craftsmanship and historical affiliation of the brand. Rest assured, these shoes will definitely achieve glory well before death.

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