Genuinely, I'm sorry to do this, but you really need some context before we dive into my experience watching Napoleon. In freshman year history class, Mr. C demanded that I memorise the capital city of each and every state in this damned country. For reasons that amounted to "fuck this weird-baseball-coach-slash-history-teacher" and "fuck Little Rock and Topeka and Bismark and Montpelier," I made a clear-eyed decision to cheat my way through the next four years of high school history. When we hit Napoleon and the French Revolution, I think, I was copying tests from Frank and Gage. (If you're reading this, Frage... thank you.)
It's a long way around to telling you that, last week, I saw—or, bore witness to—director Ridley Scott's Napoleon. There I was, a 30-year-old man with popcorn butter stains on his sweatpants at the Times Square Regal E-Walk, wondering if there's any historical basis for Napoleon oinking at Joséphine when he wants to get nasty. Could this be history? I mused.
Reader, Napoleon is really fucking weird. It's easy to understand why critics seem so confused. A film that was advertised as the "Dad Movie of the Century" sways between tones like a boozy night on the Atlantic! To give you an idea of the experience, Napoleon is two hours and 38 minutes long. First act: We're introduced to the Napoleon your girlfriend tells you not to worry about. When his horse gets a cannonball to the chest, he asks someone to dig out the cannonball so he can keep it as a memento. Second act: Napoleon done in the style of a Bowen Yang-led Saturday Night Live! skit where the quippy, wounded emperor oinks when he's horny. Third act: Waterloo.
At different points in the film, my fellow audience members were either cackling or hush-quiet. They giggled at Bonaparte's takedown of the Austrian emperor or in awe of Scott's signature historical set-pieces. After seeing the long, yet hyper-focused Killers of the Flower Moon and The Holdovers's uncomplicated mushiness, Napoleon baffled me. I can't stop thinking about it, in a men-are-always-thinking-about-the-Roman-Empire kind of way. Of all the films I've seen this year, it was the one I couldn't stop myself from recapping around Esquire's offices to anyone who would listen.
The next day, I paid a visit to our managing editor—and noted reader of historical biographies—John Kenney, and brought up a number of questions I have for Napoleon, all of which haunted my eighth-grade-level history chops:
John, bless his soul, politely watched me blabber on. He didn't offer much background either way, because either I wasn't making sense, or Napoleon didn't make sense. (If we're being honest, probably both.)
It's possible—maybe even likely—that Scott intended Napoleon as one big roast of one very little man. This man, who (as we are reminded at the end of the film) ignited wars that caused millions of casualties. So he leaned into the creepo Napoleon (Creepoleon? That something?), who was most vulnerable when he was with Joséphine. Especially the letters: "I write you, me beloved one, very often, and you write very little. You are wicked and naughty, very naughty, as much as you are fickle."
Maybe Scott thought that going full Band of Brothers on the Napoleonic Wars would reach hero-worship territory. But that doesn' explain why the last hour or so, Napoleon is exactly that. Replete with an epic Ridley Scott battle, with plenty of guns, formations, stabbing, and death. Or, perhaps Napoleon's unevenness must thank Phoenix's take on the Frenchman, which has a little bit too much Joker and Beau in the alchemy. (Another hilarious, if dubious delivery from Phoenix, delivered at top-of-lungs decibels: "YOU THINK YOU'RE SO GREAT BECAUSE YOU HAVE BOATS!")
If you're looking for a neat, tidy takeaway for this one, I don't have it. All I know is that in between bites of turkey during this Thanksgiving, I'll wonder if Bonaparte actually needed a stepladder to properly view a mummy, and secretly wish that the turkey was a lamb chop. Ask me again next year, folks.
We love a comeback. And 2023 has played host to so many of them in fashion. Highlights include: Mowalola coming home from Paris to show at February London Fashion Week; Skepta shutting down September London Fashion Week with the relaunch of his marque Mains; the grand return of cult label ASAI, brainchild of Woolwich-raised designer A Sai Ta.
All stellar moments in their own right, but what's most fascinating is that, location aside, the throughline of these comebacks is another comeback—one of the American fashion kind. With a leg up from London, Timberland's boots have been stomping back into our lives (and onto our social feeds) in the very year it's celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Not that it ever really went away. The nubuck leather stomper—invented by the brand's Ukrainian-born founder, Nathan Swartz, with the help of his son, Sidney, in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1973—is the mainstay of many a shoe rack. In its early years, the Timberland boot was espoused by the very people that it was designed for: the blue-collar workers of New England and beyond. Said labourers appreciated that the design was resilient, protective, warm, and, thanks to Swartz’s employment of injection-moulding technology, waterproof. But it wasn’t long until the versatile footwear option transcended its target market.
In Milan in the Eighties, the tread was pivotal to the Paninaro. (Paninaro: a social phenomenon that saw the young bourgeois of the Italian metropolis forming cliques in and around sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants, yielding to Americanisation in response to the social unrest of the city in the seventies.) Alongside a Moncler puffer, a pair of Timberlands was a requisite part of their Italian-American uniform.
And in the early nineties, British ravers and Japanese Yankophiles embraced the traditionally-wheat-coloured kick. But, in retrospect, such events were mere build up to the brand's defining moment: the NYC hip-hop scene's adoption of "The Original Yellow Boot" in the mid-nineties.
“Seemingly overnight, Timberland and companies like Carhartt Inc and North Face, which have made their reputations on manufacturing authentic outdoor and work apparel, have, in the parlance of the street, become ‘dope’ and ‘phat’,” wrote Michel Marriott for The New York Times in 1993.
It is said that the city's rappers were put onto 'Timbs' by the hustlers of Harlem who would cop the formidable shoes from the brand's Madison Avenue flagship and wear them whilst doing business throughout the night. Ostensibly, they affiliated the boot with the hood that they sought to symbolise.
Timberland boots have been indivisible with hip-hop—and, by extension, streetwear—ever since. To celebrate the Timbnaissance—as well as the brand's 50th anniversary documentary titled This is Not a Boot: The Story of an Icon, which dropped this week—we've collated the top moments when Timberland left a footprint on culture through the agency of the hip-hop community.
In 1993, Tupac Shakur presented the Timbs 'fit blueprint: baggy denim + streets-approved accessories + The Original Yellow Boot.
Raekwon and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan have been sporting Timberland boots ever since the collective was formed in the early nineties.
The man who once rapped, “Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn” performed in a chocolate brown pair of Timberlands, in addition to his other style essential, Versace shades, at ‘95's KMEL Summer Jam.
Stylist June Ambrose recently revealed to Footwear News that after Hype Williams' zeitgeisty music video for Busta Rhymes' 1997 hit 'Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See', the rapper “would not go on stage without the matching Timberlands to every customised look”.
“It was disruptive and sexy and provocative and very hip-hop.”
A decade after Timberlands began to pop-up on the feet of hip-hop's greatest, Sean Combs rocked some wheat-hued Timbs with a get-up typical of the rap set at the time.
Pink has always been Cam'ron's trademark colour. 14 years prior to the release of his song with blackbear, 'bright pink tims', the Harlem-born rapper wore a pair of pink bandana-print Timberland boots in the "Dipset Anthem" music video.
Hip-hop fanatic LeBron James paid homage to the music genre at the 2003 VMAs via an archetypal Timberland boot.
In 2012, Tupac's estate decided a pair of Timberlands is elemental to the late rapper's quintessential attire, as evidenced by the shoe's presence in his posthumous hologram.
A Watch the Throne-era Ye captured in a seminal ensemble that is largely responsible for Timberland's ubiquity during the early tens.
Drizzy kept the legacy afloat in the mid tens by teaming a pair of six-inch Timberlands with a turtle neck and joggers in Director X's indelible music video for 'Hotline Bling'.
Pharrell Williams—founder of Timberlands' regular collaborator, Billionaire Boys Club—put a bohemian twist on a Timbs 'fit in 2017, serving the world with a reminder of the boot's versatility.
Bellwether Rihanna ushered The Timberland Boot into yet another decade earlier this year, updating a nostalgic vest/baggy jeans/Timbs combo by pairing it with modish accessories.
Rihanna's other half, A$AP Rocky, verified the 2023 Timberland resurgence in his ad for Beats by Dr Dre's Studio Pro headphones. In it, the trendsetter is clad in some Timbs whilst running across a NYC neighbourhood to grab some diapers.