The Australian shoe company touches down with their first-ever NYC store
If you haven't heard the name RM Williams, that's about to change.
For the uninitiated, RM Williams makes some of the best boots on the planet. Its eponymous founder started outfitting ranchers with footwear that could withstand the rigors of the Australian bush in 1932. Since then, the business has become one of the most beloved brands down under. (And that's not just PR speak: an Australian DJ living in New York told GQ that its footwear is "very big in the indie rock scene. Musicians wear them. And people in the outback actually wear them too, legit shearing sheep.") The boots are popular because they hit that sweet spot of comfort, affordability, and quality: you can buy a pair for around $500 and wear it for years. At that price, its chelsea boot—called the Craftsman—is a steal compared to some of the trendy designer alternatives that you're sure to see this fall.
But an American could be forgiven for not immediately understanding this distinctly Australian sophistication. Until recently, our exposure to the country's culture was largely limited to clips of Steve Irwin wrestling with big game and headlines like 20 Photos That Prove Australia Is the Most WTF Place on Earth. So for a long time, the notion of Australia as a global lifestyle leader seemed inconsistent with reality.
But in the last few years, Australia's particular brand of luxury (one that, like the nation that inspires it, answers the needs of both harsh climates and some of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet) is starting to change the way the rest of the world lives. In addition to a hopeless obsession with Margot Robbie, city dwellers feel that influence across the board right now: you can't go to brunch without seeing an avocado toast on the menu, or make an order at a coffee shop unless you at least consider getting a flat white with almond milk. And now, at least in New York City, Williams is setting up shop not far from all the cafés, bars, and boutiques its citizens have brought to the Big Apple.
"We've had fans sending us messages asking, 'When are we going to see the brand in the United States?'" said Raju Vuppalapati, the company's CEO. "We felt the timing was perfect to come and present the true version of where we are and who we are and what we do."
The New York store, designed in collaboration with artist Mika Utzon Popov, reflects that history. The steel bars that slyly conceal the exposed ducts in the ceiling are a nod to the fencing ranchers use to herd cattle. There's also a door from the shed where Williams started his company, stamped with the brands of some of his original customers. Another installation, four 1,800-pound panels of cement indented to resemble an aerial view of the country's fields and streams, forms an abstract view of Australia's unique geography.
"You'll have sand dunes and mountains and river beds and erosions across deserts," Popov said. "Each piece can be viewed on its own, but it's all part of the same movement across the landscape."
Move to the far side of the store, and you'll find its products: The core collection of boots take up a long table in the center of store where you can watch videos of them being sewn together in RM Williams' factory. Built-in shelving showcases seasonal styles, as well as the store's exclusives, which customers can only get at this location. There's even a replica of the cowboy boots former President Bill Clinton commissioned to wear to his first inauguration.
In the back, there's a machine that will make a 3D scan of your foot that RM Williams designers can use to create bespoke shoes, and just behind that is a table that showcases the many leathers and hides available for this service. Downstairs, there's a workshop that can repair and re-sole shoes whose soles have worn out.
Not that you'll have to get them fixed all that often. "I've been wearing my boots for two years. I wear them every day," Vuppalapati said. "And I don't think they'll need anything for the next couple of years."
RM Williams, 152 Spring Street, New York City