The newly-appointed Creative Director of Dr. Martens shares his visions of the future
‘Make good stuff’, ‘evoke an emotion’, and ‘respect brand heritage’, are the foundations behind Darren McKoy’s approach to Dr. Martens. The newly appointed Creative Director of the brand is a collector at heart, someone enthralled by the development of the product (and the history which follows). His attention, simultaneously on both the past and the future, is genuine and a clear manifestation of his love of the industry. With a keen eye for upcoming talent, McKoy is ready to keep the culture coming through collaboration and community-based inspiration. We spoke with the innovator in light of his new position at Dr. Martens, excited to hear what he has in store!
Hey Darren, I hope you are well?
Yeah, I’m doing well, thank you! Apart from the fact last weekend was absolutely beautiful here in the UK, and now it’s cold and horrible. I want it back.
Exactly the same in Amsterdam. We were all out seeing the cherry blossoms last week and now it’s forecasted snow.
Whereabouts in Amsterdam? If you don’t mind me asking…
I used to live there! Near Westerpark with my wife and kids. Then I moved back to the UK for Dr. Martens actually. Amsterdam is wicked though man, a great place to be.
Nice! Couldn’t agree more. Exciting that you’ve now officially been named Creative Director of Dr. Martens. I can imagine things got real hectic real quick…
Real mad. I’ve been with Dr. Martens for over seven years. And although the brand itself is over sixty years old, over the time I have been with them I have seen a massive shift with new people (and rapid growth). This is from elevating what the brand is about – the ethos. I mean, the products have iconic status. It has been a really interesting journey.
Where did it begin?
And for the non-corporate readers haha (me)?
The function of product merchandising is to create the ‘science’ for the creatives to come in and build the products. It’s everything from marketing insights to structures of collections, timings… it’s giving the creative team a framework to work within. Product merchandising comes from a business perspective but has many creative elements. For example, looking at new ideas to then hand over to the creative team who realise the concepts. After working in product merchandising for Dr. Martens, I officially moved over to the creative team (who I was close with anyway), but now, having direct ownership and management of that team is totally transformative. It’s really cool.
You are coming from both the creative and ‘business’ perspective now I guess?
Absolutely. From brand communication to how a product looks and feels, it’s all interesting when it comes to the evolution of Dr. Martens.
You describe your approach to design as ‘holistic’, could you expand on this for me?
What I mean by holistic is staying within the DNA of the brand. I like to make sure everything we create takes into account and harnesses the original ‘icons’. I want to make sure I am always bringing this past to life… the boot, the yellow stitch, the instantaneously recognisable details you know?
So within new innovation, reflecting on traditions without ever making them the ‘past’ but always within the ‘present’?
I want to make sure we are retrospective. Always building this into the DNA. It should always look like Dr. Martens.
Dr. Martens heritage, beyond the actual shoe itself, is within subculture, punk, working-class British culture and so forth. Are these pillars of associations something you wish to stick with? Or evolve as Creative Director…
There will always be nods to the route of the brand. But as the world evolves, the spirit will continue morphing into different things, within different communities around the globe. Be it through interesting creative spaces, or so forth… Dr. Martens will always be a canvas for self-expression, which is pretty similar to what the subcultures did back in the day.
Speaking of the ‘pillars’ of Dr. Martens. If you could add a new pillar as Creative Director, what would it be?
The big thing for us is progressive thinking. The way that we do things – innovating, producing, creating and consuming… We have to be forward-thinking, taking the spirit of punk and manifesting itself today.
You describe yourself as ‘self-taught’. Where have you found the bulk of your learning?
Years of working in the footwear industry. I’m a footwear junkie. A culture junkie. I have worked for a few iconic brands.
Adidas originals, The North Face, Asics…
They have all had their own place in history. The thing with working for those brands, the formula is simple: respecting where you have come from. Applying this to the future. Having had years of experience in retail, and working around amazing people, you learn and adapt! So that’s what I mean when I say I am self-taught; that I have been around extremely talented people.
The practical training. What first inspired this direction for you? You say you are a ‘footwear junkie’, maybe a hype beast too?
No. Definitely not a hype beast. It’s more than that for me. I have a love affair with product collecting… kind of a hoarder of shoes. My collecting is ingrained into the reasons (and the rationale) as to why things are done. Yeah, it’s a love of the product. A moment in time.
In curating these moments in time, Dr. Martens identity is largely dictated by those who wear them. How does this impact the creative process internally?
The premise of what we do starts with history. All the subcultures and previous generations. We start there, then look forward. Asking: what would they be doing? How would this subculture be viewed today? The team who I have at the moment are consumers, avid wearers for 15/20+ years, so it’s a natural, organic process for us. The team have this innate connection to ‘know what’s right’, for both the brand and its wearers. I want to reinforce that message.
So, going out into the world, the consumers, and bringing that back to the design process. What have you seen recently within the Dr. Martens community? Externally…
Hmm.. I think the community is ever-evolving. Through things such as collaborations (connecting to new people), we have the opportunity to tell different stories through different people. Take our collaboration with A-COLD-WALL*, with Sam Ross, he’s taken us into a new space through his progressive, future-facing take on architectural and industrial design. Also, our collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto, again, this is a culture-led fusion, which, as a brand, we have the pleasure of creating. Also, individuals who just wear Dr. Martens! There are so many interesting, creative individuals who embody the brand so, for us, the community is always evolving and we do try and stay on top of it, but it’s a difficult thing to do…
…And maybe not necessarily something you have to do? You offer the community what they want, and they explore that.
It’s our job to encourage.
Helping elevate creatives in the process.
What do you see for the future of Dr. Martens?
I see a continuation of heritage. Leaving the brand in a solid place, for when we move on so that the next generation is in good hands. We don’t damage, we enhance the story of the brand.
And your future?
I wanna’ be here for as long as possible. I want to be on this journey for as long as possible. There are so many more stories to tell, so many narratives to build on. I’m excited about the future.