Boot Camp : Updated Chukkas Hit the Urban Trail

Los Angeles may not be known as outback country. But chukkas--durable, ankle-high boots originally created for hikers--are being worn by L.A. men whose daily treks are largely confined to studio back lots or Beverly Hills sidewalks.

What prompted the boot-wearing boom? Some manufacturers credit TV shows such as "Northern Exposure" with popularizing rugged garb. Others say the boots telegraph wearers' sensitivity to environmental issues.

"We designed and developed them for hiking enthusiasts," explains Jay Steere, a manager for Timberland, a longtime boot-maker whose business is up 10% on the West Coast. "But what's happened as part of the green movement is this rugged fashion look in urban environments."

But not too rugged. "Men want the appearance of a weighty shoe without it actually being heavy," says Adam Derrick, president of To Boot, the men's shoe concession at I. Magnin, Beverly Hills.

The Wallabees of the '70s were never paired with high-end suits. But Ron Ross, whose Tarzana store bears his name, says his customers are wearing rugged boots in the $250 to $275 range by Cesare Paciotti, Armani, Verri, Byblos and Superga with their tailored clothing.

The most popular chukkas--priced from $60 to $95--come in brown or black leather, suede, or a combination of leather and water-repellent Cordura nylon from makers such as L.A. Gear, Timberland and Eastland. Chukkas are available at Bullock's, Nordstrom and Bernini.

Libby Edelman--co-owner of Sam & Libby, which introduced a $65 men's leather chukka late last year--predicts chukka hybrids will extend the life of the trend. "We're working on a kick-boxing boot for fall '92."

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