Making luxury romantic

A Jamaican-British surfer from a run-down London suburb has rejuvenated the market for men’s luxury shoes. Inspire visits Marc Hare, founder of Marc Hare.

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The year 2008 does not start well. First Marc Hare loses his high-flying job at a global fashion house. Two weeks later he falls during a friendly football match and hurts his knee so badly he has to give up his great passion, surfing. A month or so later his marriage hits the rocks and ends in divorce.

What do you do when your life falls down around you? How do you pick yourself up and keep on going? The answer is easy: You go to Andalusia and eat tapas.

It is there, on the outdoor patio of a modest restaurant outside Seville, that Marc’s gaze becomes fixed on the shoes of a man at the next-door table. They are a pair of simply ­woven farmer’s shoes not unlike those on the feet of the other guests. But these particular shoes have something that makes Marc keep looking at them and put his beer glass down on the table. Maybe if he changes a seam there, adds a material and alters the colour? Discreetly he takes out his camera phone and snaps a photo.

It’s a photo he has saved, because it was then and there that he realised what he would do for the rest of his life.

May 2016. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and it’s raining in London. On a bustling Portobello Road people are picking their way carefully along the pavement, trying to avoid stepping in the puddles. Englishmen are protective of their shoes. We turn in onto Powis Terrace. Now a quiet road, 50 years ago it was perhaps the most swinging street in swinging London. This was the home of Ossie Clark, the fashion designer who dressed London’s hippest cats, the legendary café The L Room and artist David Hockney’s combined two-storey flat and studio. It is from the house opposite Hockney’s that a young, relaxed and well-dressed ­father steps out through an unassuming white door with a baby stroller in one hand and a large shopping bag in the other. The shopping bag is what has brought us to London. With its intense pink against an elegant black and bronze background, the bag shrieks “Mr. Hare”. It is impossible to miss this bag. It is a mobile advertising column for Marc Hare shoes. What material is it made of? That’s right – Invercote

Marc Hare helps the customer out of the shop and meets us on the opposite side of the road. The shop has not even been open for a week but customers have already found their way here. There was already a Mr. Hare shop in central London, in the exclusive Mayfair district. But coming to the shop on Powis Terrace means getting closer to the heart of the company. Marc manages the whole business from here together with his nine-member team. They also do all the online sales from the office one floor

below the shop. Marc has a new relationship and a young baby at home. After the interview he will go home and say good-bye to his family before flying to Porto, Portugal for a meeting with a new factory.

“I finished my holiday in Andalusia and when I came back to London I put together a PowerPoint presentation to convince myself this was doable. It took me five minutes to come up with the name. I thought ‘Mr. Hare, wow, that’s a brilliant name for a shoe brand.”

His journey to launching his own shoe brand has been long and winding. He studied business at London College of Fashion at the end of the 1980s and then worked as a PR consultant at Lynne Franks PR (the PR company that inspired the TV series Absolutely Fabulous). After a couple of years he moved on and founded his own PR agency working for men’s fashion houses, record companies and artists. But despite such interesting clients, the PR industry never felt quite right to him.

“I ended up getting a lot of marketing consultancy jobs for streetwear and sportswear brands. That distracted me for a good eight years. I became very disillusioned. You present something for the clients and they take it away and make something totally different out of it. I could never point at something and say ‘Look what I’ve done, I’m really proud of this!’”

Among his last customers were three young men who had just written a guidebook to the best surfing in Europe. They planned to open a shop in Notting Hill to be called Low Pressure. After having helped them with PR for a while, Marc asked if he could start working for them directly.

“We never made any money but we counted our success in how many weeks we were surfing and snowboarding without paying for it ourselves, and in the name of that, we were millionaires every year. But like all things you do as a young enthusiast, the company fell apart like a rock band.”

He then went to the Swedish fashion brand J.Lindeberg and after only six months he became head of global marketing. After a few years the company was sold and people were let go, including Marc. 

“Everything I’ve ever done prior to this is what led up to what I’m now doing.”

We’re each sitting in a chair in the middle of the carpeted shop, surrounded by exclusive men’s shoes with a modern twist. There are classics like Oxford and Derby shoes, Chelsea boots and wingtips, but each model has some detail that gives it a distinctive hallmark. These are shoes for curious individuals who want to and dare to challenge style norms. Their inspiration comes largely from the world of surfing.

“Shoes to me have always been a part of the story of romance and adventure,” Marc explains. “The Mr. Hare tagline is ‘Shoes you can attach some romance to’. Everything about surfing is all about style and riding with the most amount of style. And then they get off the boards and they dress like tramps. When I started Mr. Hare it was always about the romance and adventure of being continuously stylish – once you got out of the water.”

“Jamaicans are inherently very, very proud of their appearance, and I think coming from a Jamaican background played a big part in it.”

Marc Hare

As well as surfing, one other form of culture has always influenced Marc both as a person and as a shoe designer: music.

“Around the age of 10 I really got into The Specials and all that kind of rude boy music. The big part of being into that was the shoes they were wearing, like the College loafers, brogues, Dr. Martens. Music has had much more influence than surfing, and that has come full circle because now we’ve actually got artists wearing our shoes when they receive Grammy Awards.”

The door to the street is wide open and a woman and a young girl in a school uniform peek in and ask if they could possibly have a Mr. Hare shopping bag for the daughter’s school project? Marc immediately goes to the storeroom and fetches a bag. He tells the girl that he’d like her to come back and show him the project when it’s finished. He has quickly become on greeting terms with his neighbours in the area. A few evenings before he opened the shop he put notes through all the neighbours’ letterboxes explaining that a shop would be opening and inviting them to a barbecue on the road outside the shop.

“I got to meet all these people’s kids and stuff, and now it instantly feels like you’re part of it. And two ladies came – one had lived here for 30 years. And then four doors away from her was another lady who had lived here for 24 years on the same street. They never said hello to each other until they came in here.”

All the shoes from Mr. Hare are based on the founder’s own personal taste and style. That was something he decided right away on that summer afternoon in Andalusia eight years ago: that he would make shoes he would want to wear himself.

“I came back and decided what it would look like and it looked like the shoes on the shelf over there, the one with the evening shoes on.”

Marc designs all the shoes himself. Sometimes he does ask his colleagues for advice on taste issues but he seldom doubts his own cre­ative instinct.

“I just do them. Because like I said, I make them for me, so who else is there to ask?”

‘Fans of the Mr. Hare brand include a great many celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr, Javier Bardem, Tom Hardy, Amir Khan, Jefferson Hack, ASAP Rocky and Tinie Tempah.

Something else the shoes have in common is that they all come with a high price tag. But they are not expensive just for the sake of it. If Marc thought he could sell shoes that were even more expensive, he would. Because if you are going to make the perfect shoe, it will cost money.

“To actually make a bombproof pair of shoes out of the best materials and best constructions is really expensive. To do all of that properly, they end up retailing for about 1,000 pounds. To get the price down, there’s always got to be a compromise somewhere. People say the only way to really get shoes down to that price is to go somewhere where labour is cheap. And that’s how ­people do it. We don’t do that, and that’s why our shoes remain at 300 to 450 pounds.”

I ask which shoes he likes to wear best himself. The answer sounds more like the surfer Marc than the shoe designer Mr. Hare.

“My favourite shoes are barefoot on a beach. Sand between my toes is my favourite shoes.”

Julian Morey on the Mr. Hare graphics

Which typeface does the Mr. Hare logotype come in, and why did you go with this particular one?

“The Mr. Hare logotype is bespoke, which means it is hand-drawn especially by Mr. Hare, you won’t find it anywhere else. Originally when Marc started the company he created all the graphics and used

Didot typeface for the logo which he slightly condensed. Using this as a starting point I applied some TLC. On the bag I had to draw two versions, the smaller is the standard logotype, the larger logo had to be more condensed so that it could fit into the shape of the bag.”

In what way do you think the Mr Hare logotype/typography conveys the exclusive products?

During the 20th century the Didone genre of typefaces became aligned with luxury fashion; the logo for Giorgio Armani and timeless mastheads for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue are classic examples. The Didot’s high contrast strokes have an elegance and precision that makes them feel crafted and tailored. 

Could you describe the process behind the design of the Mr. Hare shopping bag?

“I presented Marc with 10 or so different concepts for the design, of this was one that was developed into final artwork. I came up with the colours, I chose black and dark metallic brown for the background as I wanted two colours that would stand back and be subtly different. I knew red would work well with black and that pink works well with brown and again I wanted two more colours that are subtly different.”

Julian Morey is a London based graphic design consultant specialising in typography and typeface design. His clients have included advertising agencies, nightclubs, department stores and luxury brands. More of his work for Mr. Hare can be viewed at www.abc-xyz.co.uk/view/mr_hare. Photo: Morgan O'Donovan.

TEXT: JOHAN LINDBERG PHOTO: ANDREAS BLECKMANN

Marc Hare’s shoe style don’ts:

1. Don’t hide them
“If your trousers bunch up it makes you look about a foot taller. And you can actually see your shoes because they’re not covered in the trousers.”

2. Don’t ignore them
“We’ve done a lot of teaching people how to polish and how to take care of a pair of shoes. It’s part of a culture that has just disappeared in the sneaker age.”

 3. Don’t wear them
“From the minute you start using your shoes, you’re constantly destroying them. The best thing for a pair of shoes is for you to just not wear them.”

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