When most people look at a rubber boot, they see exactly that: a plain old boring keep-your-feet-dry-when-it-rains rubber boot. But when Alasdhair Willis looks at a rubber boot, it’s a whole other story: he sees a glorious past, romance and adventure, and a wide-open future. Intrigued? That’s the point.
A London-based creative consultant and all-around brand guru (side note: he’s also married to Stella McCartney), Willis was hired by Hunter Original in early 2013 to shake up the British bootmaker’s image and give the wellington an haute update. With a background in art (“My ambition was to be the world’s next big painter”), publishing (he helped launch Wallpaper in 1996) and marketing (he’s consulted for Adidas, Jaguar and Alfred Dunhill), Willis has been at the bleeding edge of the global style zeitgeist for the better part of 20 years.
So when he was appointed creative director at Hunter, he was keen to push the brand beyond rainy-day staples. “People might anticipate words like rain, waterproofing and weather, but I really wanted to understand the personality and spirit of what we stand for,” says Willis, who, after digging into the company’s near-160-year history, found inspiration in the British Victorian thirst for travel and discovery. “People were setting off all over the world— botanical travellers, plant hunters, explorers in search of the source of the Nile. It was one of the reasons Hunter was actually created,” he says. “We found all of these amazing, rich, very romantic but beautiful stories, and they led me to this idea of the pioneering spirit, which I think is the essence of the Hunter brand.”
His debut collection (Hunter’s first foray into apparel), which launches this fall, marks a new, futuristic vision for the company. Technical materials and clean-lined silhouettes (polyurethane ponchos, neoprene jackets) speak, in a modern way, to the brand’s longstanding values. “We looked at the world today and thought about the areas of this planet that are yet undiscovered, that can still be pioneered,” says Willis. The new frontiers? Deep sea and outer space—influences that can be seen in the collection’s scuba-like welded seams, double-enforced zippers, and pewter puffer jackets that call to mind astronaut suits. Boot updates include sturdy heels and colourful, translucent vinyl panels on the signature wellie. English country this is not.
“I often refer to Hunter as a progressive heritage label,” says Willis. “We’re very much looking to innovate, and take some risks as well.” In other words, boldly go …
ALASDHAIR’S TOP FIVE (Bonus: 18 more reasons why Alasdhair is an absolute dreamboat)
1. GO-TO GETAWAY Skiing in Switzerland.
2. STYLE ICON King Edward VIII
3. FLICK PICK 8 1/2 by Fellini.
4. CHOICE RESTO The River Café in London
5. FAVE DESIGNER Stella McCartney (obvi).