Conversation With: Barker Black’s Derrick Miller
Derrick Miller, creative director of Barker Black Ltd., comes by his innate design sense initially from his father, Frank Miller, an artist and clotheshorse obsessed with custom English shoes and clothing. He enrolled at Parson’s School of Design in Paris, where he fell in love with photography – which helped him evolve his progressive eye for style and detail. He landed spots on the mastheads at GQ and Nylon, but he was most interested in the process involved in clothing design. So he did what anyone would do if they had the nerve. He contacted Mr. Ralph Lauren personally, arrived for their appointment in a $19.99 handmade suit from the Salvation Army, and Miller was hired on the spot to work on the top-of-the-line Purple Label. Shortly thereafter, Miller was approached with a pivotal opportunity. Barker Shoes, a 125-year-old shoe company from Northampton, England was looking for someone to relaunch their brand with a more modern flair. Derrick’s vision was complemented by his brother Kirk Miller’s approach to style, and together, they held the title of Directors of Operations until Kirk’s departure in January 2010. Together, they conceived the concept and strategy behind Barker Black Ltd. Now alone at the helm, Derrick designs the elegant, sophisticated shoes and accessories with just slightly rebellious details.
NM: Barker Shoes was established in the village of Earls Barton in 1880 by Arthur Barker, specializing in the “Good Year Welted” construction. What exactly is this technique?
DM: “Good Year Welting” is the traditional process of shoe manufacturing in England. Basically, a piece of leather is wrapped over the last and stitched to a thick piece of narrow leather that turns outside the shoe – this is called the welt. The sole is then stitched to the welt. This process creates a sturdier and more durable shoe.
NM: Barker Black’s core collection is inspired by an ancient regiment of British guardsmen – the 17th Lancers. What is it about these men that seems to be in tune with the original philosophy?
DM: What I love about the lancers is their arrogance and attitude. They also had functional gear that looked great. I liked the concept of these men dressing well to go into battle. This is what I have tried to capture with Barker Black.
NM: How has the brand changed from the 1880′s until today?
DM: The company has been around since 1880 but when I launched Barker Black 6 years ago, all of the manufacturing was upgraded and the styling was completely updated. I basically went into an old factory and shook it up to a point where we could make some of the most well-made and interesting shoes possible.
NM: Who do you view as the modern Barker Black gentleman?
DM: There are two sets of guys who I think fit the bill. The hedge fund/investment banker, and the Hollywood agent/mogul. Basically, anyone who is an independent spirit and has the guts to push hard to reach their goals.
NM: Your shoes are still created to appeal to a “modern lancer.” How is this kept in mind during the design process?
DM: I go back to the attitude and arrogance of the lancers – so I try to incorporate something no matter how subtle it may be into every shoe. Maybe something as subtle as the “X” shaped keeper stitch below the laces or as obvious as the lancer motto “Death or Glory” written across the front of a pair of slippers.
NM: What’s next for the brand?
DM: We are in the expansion mode at the moment – wallets, overnight bags, and other shoe categories are currently all in the works.
NM: What have you been inspired by as of late?
DM: I spent a week in Tuscany and I was inspired by the light and the colors of the landscape. They definitely made an impression that will show in the next collection.
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