The story of Hutton is an unlikely one.
The Original Hutton Brand, A Cultural Phenomenon
Founded in the 1930s and then re-incorporated in 1948 as Hutton of Northampton, the first iteration Hutton was a force to be reckoned with, putting out shoes that became such a cultural phenomenon, the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export in 1966.
Hutton suede chukkas were a sensation, frequently seen worn by movie actors like Anthony Perkins, Jason Robards Jr, Robert Webber, Burgess Meredith, as well as West Coast baritone legend Gerry Mulligan.
Of course – as must always be mentioned in a recounting of Hutton’s story – not just any Hollywood actor, but Steve McQueen himself, who transcended his film career and became a style icon quite literally nicknamed the “King of Cool” and who remains a cultural icon today, took an especial liking to Hutton, first with the shoes, then the chukka boots.
In the 1958 sci-fi movie The Blob, McQueen is seen wearing Hutton’s chukkas. Then in the 1960’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, The Man from the South, you can see clear shots of McQueen wearing Hutton shoes. Hutton shoes again reappear in Love With The Proper Stranger of 1963, this time in leather.
When Hutton released their chukkas with slightly slimmer profile soles under the name ‘Playtime,’ McQueen began to wear his at almost every opportunity. They became a staple piece in his timeless fashion.
Sadly, however, like most English manufacturers, the original Hutton brand eventually closed their doors in 1990.
Like all good things, the Hutton brand, as well as the stunning design and craftmanship of the shoes that they birthed, had come to an end.
While there have been many attempts at bringing back the look of Hutton’s classic chukkas, there has always been something special about the way the boots used to be made.
As luck would have it, Hutton the company, and the classic chukkas, the way they used to be made, would be given a second life.
The Resurrection of Hutton, A Three-Generation Family-Owned Business
Hutton of Northampton Ltd is a three-generation family-owned business.
The story of this new chapter of Hutton begins with the original founder, David Corben.
I. David’s Chapter
Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 to recognize 55 years of service to the British shoe industry, David started at the bottom and worked his way up from the shoe shop floor, fueled by his passion for footwear.
Due to his hard work and aided by an eye for both quality and design, David took his career far. He went on to become the Export Director, then Managing Director, of Loake, before branching out to his own brands.
Ironically, as if fact happened to be fiction you would call this detail foreshadowing, David worked on the Hutton of Northampton production line back in the 60s when he first started his career. Using Goodyear machines, his job was to sew welt for the Playtime chukkas.
David hung on to the Hutton brand in the form of clinging on to the company’s name long after they closed their doors in 1990.
II. Gary’s Chapter
The story of Hutton has a 25 year intermission, until, two and a half decades later, David’s son, Gary Corben – by happenstance – was looking for superior quality desert boots to add to his personal shoe collection.
While he always had several pairs of crepe soled suede chukka boots in his shoe rotation, he noticed a slow yet steady deterioration in quality of desert boots available to buy over the years.
If you know Gary personally, you’ll understand how obsessive he is over what he wears. Especially when it comes to footwear (yes, it runs in the family).
And at this point, all Gary wanted was the perfect pair of desert boots; preferably with two or three extra stashed away as back up pairs, ideally in different colours.
Gary’s no stranger to snapping up vintage shoes that have long since been sold in stores. But even with his obsessive eye for snagging these gems, he eventually realized he couldn’t get what he wanted on the second-hand market. There just weren’t enough out there, especially not in his size.
So Gary had two choices.
Choice #1 was to wait for someone else to make the perfect boot. Unlikely, considering shoe companies are cutting corners on quality for consumers who are more into fast fashion these days.
That left choice #2. He could make the perfect boots himself.
And since Gary, being David’s son, grew up surrounded by the shoe industry (he even remembers playing with sample shoes from Lotus, Grenson, and Loake Brothers as a child), he was convinced he could do it.
Of course, if he was going to make just any suede chukka, the classic Hutton desert boots had to be considered. The holy grail for Gary was always the Hutton Playtime, but that was the kind of dream you’d scale up to. The classic Hutton chukkas were a great place to start.
On a whim, Gary did a quick search to see who owned the Hutton name at the time, discovered it was his own father, and was gobsmacked. It seemed fate had intervened.
Gary had the Hutton chukkas produced, promoting the Type 01 desert boots on his blog, The Weejun, and sold out of several runs.
For a time, it seemed Hutton may have had it’s second coming, and it’s second demise.
Gary had his perfect desert boot, along with a number of spares in his size in different colours.
He always had it in his mind that he might take on the Playtime. There was certainly no short of demand. But the Playtime would be an enormous project in comparison to the Type 01 desert boots, something he felt disinclined to do on his own.
Setting the company aside for a few years, Gary’s vision for the Hutton Playtime chukkas didn’t come into fruition until a third generation of the family entered the picture.
III. Thomas’ Chapter
David’s passion for footwear has proven to be especially contagious, as the obsession with quality shoes continued down yet another generation, to David’s grandson, Thomas Xavier.
Laying eyes on Gary’s Type 01 Desert boots, Thomas was impressed, and Gary generously gifted him a pair Thomas wore relentlessly.
The Type 01s have held up well over the years, somehow managing to look even finer with age. Today they’re still one of Thomas’ favourite pairs of shoes.
That being said, the #1 spot: hands down goes to none other than the reissued Hutton Playtimes Thomas signed on to help Gary bring to the world.
There’s nothing in the world comparable to quality craftmanship for Thomas. He has interests up a lot of different alleys.
But his ultimate passion – whether it’s in the form of a watch, fountain pen, bag, pocketknife, lighter or a pair of shoes – is quality.
If there’s a brilliant design and execution, precision and perfection to the fit and finish, the product itself is somehow elevated, becoming an obsession which “pride of ownership” comes close, but doesn’t completely, explain away.
Which is why hearing about Gary’s vision for the Playtime and envisioning it himself was enough to get Thomas on board with the project, wanting a pair of his own.
If Gary wanted help, there was no way Thomas was going to pass up the opportunity to provide that help so the Playtime could get it’s day in the sun.
IV. To Be Continued…
The future of Hutton is uncertain because the remaining chapters are still unwritten. With Gary & Thomas taking the reins, quality will most certainly never be compromised.
But where the company is headed in terms of new designs remains to be seen.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, the community that has supported Hutton from it’s re-invention, and which continues to grow around it, to decide.