Since its formation in 1831, French Foreign Legion have had boots on the ground on five continents, in terrains ranging from sun-drenched deserts, to snowy wastelands, to frozen jungle swamps to densely populated metropolises.
This month, the military force famously churning out recruits from around the globe is stepping into uncharted territory — the world of fashion — with its first-ever product collaboration: a men’s boot inspired by footwear worn in combat zones by the force’s legionnaires (which, with the exception of an English womanhave all been men).
“One of our mottos is ‘à la manière de nos anciens,’ which means ‘as former legionnaires would do,'” Lt. Col. Jean-Philippe Bourbon, a spokesman for The Foreign Legion, said in an email. “We loved the idea that for our first fashion partnership we could reflect an appreciation of our history and the achievements of all our predecessors.”
The original boot, called the Pallabrousse, was introduced by the French company Palladium in 1947. Now focused on footwear, Palladium first produced tires for the fledgling European aviation industry in the 1920s. But after World War II, demand for its tires declined and the company switched to making shoes with rubber soles.
The Pallabrousse, which had a lightweight, quick-drying cotton canvas body, was adopted by the Legion as a combat boot and worn by soldiers deployed to conflicts in Asia and Africa. Palladium stopped making the military-grade boot more than 20 years ago, but later added a custom version, Pallabrousse Legion, to his collection. In March, when Palladium noted its history of outfitting soldiers while promoting its 75th anniversary in the footwear business, some lieutenants in the Legion took notice and reached out to the brand with the idea of a collaboration.
“Someone from the Legion saw a posting on LinkedIn,” said Jamel Khadir, vice president of sales and marketing at Palladium in Lyon, France. “Things went very quickly from there.”
The collaborators decided to create a special edition of the Pallabrousse Legion boot, which has elements of the original Pallabrousse – including a protective rubber toe cap and supportive canvas strips on the sides to stabilize the foot – but is made differently.
“The boots used to be made via a direct vulcanization process where rubber was directly injected and molded as an outsole onto the upper, the part of the shoe that is in contact with the ground,” said Mr. Khadir said, noting that the technique resulted in some shoes melting in extreme temperatures. “Now we use glue instead of putting the two parts of the shoe together instead.”
French Foreign Legion generals worked with members of the Palladium design team to perfect prototypes of the special-edition style. Details unique to the boot, called Pallabrousse’s legacyinclude a patch with the legion’s logo and embroidery with the force’s (second) motto: “Legio Patria Nostra,” a Latin phrase that translates to “the legion is our fatherland.”
The collaboration was a “tribute” to the miles legionnaires walked in the original Pallabrousse boot, Colonel Burban said, and to the roughly 36,000 soldiers who have died while serving in the legion, which was founded to protect France’s colonial interests and recently sent units to the Balkans, Mali and the Ivory Coast, as well as to Afghanistanto serve with forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The special edition Pallabrousse Legacy boot, which goes on sale Tuesday, costs $130 and comes in two colors, olive and caramel. Although Palladium has made products with other notable partners, including Comme des Garçons and Scandinavian outerwear brand Rains, French Foreign Legion brought a particular rarity to this collaboration, according to Mr. Khadir, the Palladium director.
“It’s the only power of its kind in the world,” he said. “And being one of a kind has a special resonance, especially today.”