It’s easy to overlook the many attempts by American industry to turn oil refining byproducts into lucrative space age man made fabrics. We all know of Dacron, nylon, terylene etc when appliedto clothing but what is less well known and less remembered are the attempts to replace one of nature’s most noble fabrics. Leather.
In the late 60s Dupont was heavily pushing Corfam, its answer to leather. Supposedly breathable and longer wearing with no need for regular polishing, this plastic leather was really like wrapping your feet in a couple of PET coca cola bottles and wandering through Death Valley. Not to mention the immense blisters caused by the unyielding plastic.
How do I know? Well in about 1970 Ma Weejun insisted on buying me a pair of John White TUF monk strap shoes for school wear. The sales assistant assured her that these (great looking but stiff as a board) monsters would outlast the regular Clarks Commandos. The reality was horrendous although thankfully didn’t lead to lasting damage as a few short months later the shoes smelled so bad from infant foot meltdown that they were jettisoned in favour of the aforementioned Clarks.
The fabric was usually hard and had like many early man made materials had a tendence to harden and crack over time. I doubt whether many of you have even seen such vintage Corfam shoes listed on Ebay either because most ebay sellers can’t tell plastic from leather (witness all those listings for Dexter Beefoll loafers that claim leather soles – Dexters rarely had them) or more likely because they rotted away and were thrown out decades ago.
Dupont obviously had some pull and the names in their 1968 advertising campaign are classic Ivy makers. Those Weejuns look great don’t they? Just don’t try walking in them.