When R.M. Williams was sold to LVMH, the high-fashion conglomerate, early last year, my first thought was, “what would R.M. say about all this?” After all, this was a man born on the Australian bush to a lower class family who worked his way up from a swagman to a millionaire with his eponymous line of Chelsea boots. Even still, I imagine that when R.M. churned out his first pair of Chelseas back in the 1930’s, he never would’ve fathomed that his name would once be listed alongside the likes of Louis Vuitton. Hell, I doubt he even knew who Louis Vuitton was.
R.M. was born Reginald Murray Williams in 1908, and for the first quarter of his life he lived primarily as a transient, traveling across the Australian countryside doing whatever odd job he could find. After dropping out of school at thirteen, R.M. worked as a camel driver, a well digger, and a leatherworker (a skill that R.M. learned from a saddler named Dollar Mick, because that’s just how stories like this go), which ultimately paved the way for his life’s greatest work.
By 1932, R.M. was living with his family (in typical folk hero fashion, R.M. had two wives and fathered ten children) in the Southern Australian city of Adelaide, but he had fallen on hard times. During his younger years, R.M. had traveled with aborigines, ranchers, and general journeymen, which gave him the idea to create a boot tough enough to battle the outback’s unpredictable elements. R.M. used his leather skills to craft a pull on riding boot, which he swiftly sold to a man for twenty shillings, or roughly two bucks today.
R.M. realized that there might just be a fortune to be made in the boot business, so he built a factory behind his father’s house and began placing ads in rural newspapers to entice the country’s cattlemen and cowpokes. Over the next few decades, R.M. conquered the outback, then the cities, then the globe, as his hardy yet handsome Chelsea boots became adored from the bush to the boardroom. R.M. unfortunately passed away in 2003, but his legacy lives on in his brand’s boots, which continue to be produced in Australia, and remain some of the best boots that money can buy. —JG