From Saddle To Street Style
With its sleek needle toe, distinctive white contrast stitching on the welt and Cuban-inspired heel, the Millicent boot brings a bit of Casablanca to the R.M.Williams stable. Gretel Sneath talks to lead artisan Abdelghani Elmarghichi about the gentle and precise technique in their crafting.
There is a reason why traditional western boots have such a distinctive profile; a pointed toe slips easily into the stirrup, while a stacked heel stops the foot sliding forward whilst still allowing for a quick dismount.
Reginald Murray (RM) Williams introduced the same purposeful design when he first began handcrafting trustworthy boots for bush customers in the 1930s; the seasoned horseman always figured that it’s better to ride it than get dragged. RM also took it several steps further, adding elastic sides and an upper shaped from one piece of leather. The single seam at the back was designed to keep the dirt, moisture and blisters at bay on even the worst day droving.
In the decades since, RM’s original design has been reimagined in a range of popular styles, including the heritage Santa Fe with its decoratively-stitched rodeo toe. But it wasn’t until the winter of 2006 that the Millicent boot made a welcome entrance with its sleek needle toe, distinctive white contrast stitching on the welt, and 4.5 centimetre Cuban-inspired heel.
“While it had the same rugged elegance of our other boots, it was a lot more refined, and worked equally well with jeans or skirts,” says R.M.Williams workshop head Mehmed Mustafic.
Handy in the saddle but also fit for an office or bar, the Millicent is handcrafted from premium yearling leather in black and chestnut. Bright seasonal suedes, metallics, basket weave, burnished and Made to Order crocodile are also in high demand.
“The Millicent was popular right from the start, and our biggest issue has always been keeping up with demand,” Mehmed says.
While it takes 80 sets of highly skilled hands to make a single pair of chisel-toe Craftsman boots, the Millicent is crafted by a much smaller team led by Abdelghani Elmarghichi. An artisan from Morocco, Abdel spent two decades making some of Casablanca’s finest leather footwear before his welcome arrival at R.M.Williams’ Adelaide workshop.
“He’s a very, very skilled craftsman; he’s gentle and he’s meticulous,” Mehmed explains.
It takes serious patience and highly technical skills to fashion a single piece of leather into the Millicent’s flawless pointy toe; Abdel says that even the toughest premium leather can be prone to tearing in the wrong set of hands.
“The Millicent boot last is very sharp, and leather can crack very fast; it’s extremely delicate and you have to be passionate and careful, because there are a lot of steps involved,” he says. “It’s a very difficult boot to make, but I enjoy the challenge.”
The Millicent boot is also rather exclusive; only around 100 pairs are completed each week compared to a few thousand pairs of best-selling Craftsman boots. Abdel is on the hunt for an apprentice or two keen to nail the complex needle toe, for the customer orders keep galloping in.