Surrey-born Barney Waters is the man behind the successful re-launch of the French footwear, Palladium. As Vice President of Marketing, Waters has brought the street edge back to the brand; footwear regularly gracing the pages and sites of Nylon and Hypebeast. But it’s Palladium’s video documentaries – cityscape excursions – that’s garnered the brand much attention. From uncovering London’s pirate radio to Berlin’s Cold War espionage station, each series is hosted by an avid explorer: editor Tom Littlewood (Vice Germany), model and designer Shawn Joswick, to actor Johnny Knoxville. Waters invites us into his home office and discusses all things Palladium. Continue…

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Barney Waters: I moved to America when I was 23, transferring to the Boston headquarters of the company I was working for. I arrived at Logan airport with my life in two suitcases and not knowing a single person, thinking, “Holy shit, what have I gone and done?”

How did you become involved with Palladium?

BW: I ended up working for Puma in Boston, as the VP of Marketing for North America – a dream job. I’d been there for seven years when I got a call from K-Swiss, they’d bought this old French boot company and were looking for someone to help re-launch it. I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be given a real heritage brand, creatively a blank sheet of paper with a big company budget behind it. Once I convinced my Bostonian wife to move to California, we were on our way.

The exploration documentary films are fascinating – personal favourites are The Ruins of New York and London Pirate Radio. How did you decide on which city to feature and go about discovering these hidden pockets?

BW: Thank you! I’m very proud of the work. The overall concept of urban explorations came through Virtue, the creative agency I hired. They’re the agency arm of Vice media, really special people there. They drove the concept and we collectively decided not to create advertising, but to go on real explorations: make the films carry the brand’s message. At the same time we decided to go with the city that had the best story, versus picking the city with the most sales potential. I’m not sure that was the smartest move, because after we released Detroit Lives we became extremely popular in the Detroit area (measured by web traffic and Facebook fans). I said to senior management, “Hey the good news is I’ve made our brand really popular, the bad news is that I’ve made us really popular in the city with perhaps the lowest disposable income in the country.”

Palladium presents: Detroit Lives featuring Johnny Knoxville

How did you pair-up with Johnny Knoxville to present Exploration 7: Detroit Lives?

BW: As you can imagine, a lot of names got thrown around. I picked Knoxville because I felt he was an everyman, someone people could relate to, and someone who could carry the documentary. These explorations aren’t scripted, they happen fairly organically so the host needs to draw the story out of people, to be personable and make people open up. Johnny is obviously that guy. I showed other Hollywood leading men – pretty major ones – to our European team and they kept saying, “Never heard of him,” to people who I would consider big US movie stars. Then I put a picture up of Johnny Knoxville and the whole room lit up with smiles and laughter, “Oh yes, we love that guy!” That was how I knew he was our guy.

Which city will be featured for Exploration 8?

BW: Well, we’re about to shoot a documentary to highlight our new summer boots. So we’re looking to do that in LA and to explore LA’s relationship with water. This will be a fun one. After that, we’ll do another exploration for fall, and we’re still deciding where to go, but maybe somewhere in Asia.

There’s also two short films featuring models Alice Dellal and Daisy Lowe. How did their participation come about?

BW: We did those films to support our UK launch and were slightly shorter format than our main explorations. Alice and Daisy are both real icons in England and have styles that are distinctly different from each other. We wanted to give them the boots and see how they would incorporate them into their looks. Then we had them explore some abandoned spaces in London to set the scene.

Who would you love to see as the face of Palladium?

BW: This is an ongoing discussion and of course everyone has an opinion! A Palladium explorer has to be someone that doesn’t mind roughing it, climbing walls and going into dark places. They also have to have a natural interest in exploring new things and following the threads of the story to build the narrative of the piece. On top of that, they have to look good in the boots! So it’s a tall order. It’s not a typical studio shoot with a single money shot holding the product up.

If you could create a mixtape – for someone who’s going on an exploration in his or her Palladiums – which songs would you choose?

BW: Such a difficult question, but my favorite album from start-to-finish would be Black Love by The Afghan Whigs.

Where’s the most extreme place you’ve explored?

BW: The most eye opening for me was Detroit. I mean, such a massive city with such huge areas of decay and abandonment. It’s really mind blowing to see it firsthand. Then you dig deeper and understand the loyalty and resilience of the locals and it’s an incredible place. It has some serious potential but also some serious problems.

Can you discuss the Spring/Summer 2011 collection?

BW: The main story for Spring/Summer 2011 is the LITE line. These boots have been built for hot weather, so they’re the perfect summer boots. Boots are typically thought of as a fall/winter option. Girls go straight for the flip-flops once the sun comes out, but if you’re on your feet all day, in the city or at a festival, you need something more substantial. The LITE boots – in the Baggy version – weigh about eight ounces, which is incredibly lightweight. Plus we used a rip stop cotton blend on the uppers and included a moisture wicking lining for sweat control and fast drying. We’ve chosen a striped fabric on the lining too, referencing a summer seersucker print, which pops really well on the Baggy’s fold over collar.

What can we expect for Fall/Winter 2011?

BW: For Fall/Winter we concentrate on keeping you warm and dry. Once the weather turns nasty, function rules over fashion, although I think we do a great job of combining the two. We have a new 100-percent waterproof line for Fall 2011, which are seam sealed and use waterproof leathers, stitching and insole. Then we’re also expanding our wool-lined offerings, using 100-percent genuine Australian wool from ankle to toe. Toasty.

Which style is your personal favourite?

BW: The boot I wear most is the Pampa Mid, created by Stussy Deluxe as a collaborative project. They created a new mid-height and did a combination of suede and canvas. I also love the Tactical boot, which we have in ballistic nylon. The boot was created by Udi Shiloah, our VP of Product. When I first saw it I told him it would never sell. It became the best selling boot of the season, a fact I’m constantly reminded of!

Palladium has collaborated with various brands, like Bodega to Stussy Deluxe. Who will you be collaborating with next?

BW: Well, we’re continuing to work with menswear designer Neil Barrett. He created a boot for us for Fall 2010, which was beautiful and did really well. We’re working on a second round. We’re also working with Maharishi, a legendary UK streetwear brand that has a ton of military influence and experience, which I felt was a logical fit considering our military heritage. There are a few more things in the pipeline, but nothing I can reveal specifics on.

What’s next for Palladium? Any thoughts about opening a flagship store?

BW: Yes! We’ve already started and have Palladium stores in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. In fact, our Amsterdam store was just featured in Sportswear International’s publication, Storebook: The World’s Best New Fashion Stores, highlighting the best in contemporary retail design. We’re currently looking for a LA location and then we’ll grow from there.

If you could sum up Palladium in five words what would it be?

BW: For exploring in urban terrain!

Office images courtesy of Barney Waters, featured image is from the Pampa Hi Canvas collection and trailer and film stills courtesy of


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