Brown suede shoes set to get the designer make-over treatment

For decades, they were the shoe of choice, an indispensible badge of identity for the G and T, ice and a slice, Jaguar-driving man-about-town

Now an icon of British fashion is in danger of disappearing, as sales of men's brown suede shoes have plummeted to an all-time low.

Enter Debenhams, which is coming to the rescue to try to preserve the style before it disappears for ever, by asking top designers to reinvent the classic shoe using styles which will appeal to a younger generation.

"For years, this shoe has represented the sole of the nation," said Debenhams spokesman Ed Watson. "All over the world, Britons are still renowned for wearing brown suede shoes with blue shirts. It's as well known as our penchant for afternoon tea, and we want to do all that we can to enable everyone to continue this great tradition. We've asked our designers to develop a new approach which incorporates the best of this classic style while bringing the shoe bang up-to-date."

Brown suede shoes first found favour with respectable Middle England when they were worn by the Duke of Windsor in the 1930s.

Film stars Cary Grant and Terry Thomas followed the trend, boosting the shoe's profile to an all-time high. Sales soared in the 1960s and '70s, with brown suede becoming the footwear of choice, along with blue blazers, flannels and Pringle jumpers.

British Army officers wore them in civvies, and golf clubs regarded them almost as a requirement of membership.

Ladette to Lady etiquette expert Liz Brewer said: "Brown suede shoes are a British design classic. They are the appropriate footwear for the often-problematic smart/casual dress code and are perfect for country house weekends.

"While 'never wear brown in town' still holds true for the City gent, brown suede shoes are now acceptable at the majority of workplaces."