Trainers, sneakers, runners, kicks, whatever you want to call them, have undergone somewhat of a revolution in recent history. This piece will vaguely attempt to delve into the “sneaker head” culture. Interestingly, if you know nothing about it, the Brooklyn Museum in New York recently played host to a milestone exhibition entitled “The Rise Of Sneaker Culture”. Some might say it’s ridiculous dedicating a museum space to trainers, but there’s definitely an art to a well designed shoe. I simply want to give a brief account of my experience and favourite shoes, whilst touching on the history and relevance of this, now, fashion staple.
Whilst growing up, off the jump, your footwear choices are not your own. Parents will decide what you wear based on their taste, until you get to that age where you can pick your first pair. I’m not going to lie and say I remember it, but it was probably a big deal. Learning how to tie your laces is an epochal moment. From there, heading off to primary/ elementary school, you are immediately introduced to functional, cheap and without question, classic footwear. This came in the form of the white or black plimsolls worn in physical education class. These “gutties” or "pumps” were originally designed in the 1830’s as beachwear by the Liverpool Rubber Company. I didn’t know that shit but it’s crazy how far back they go.
Beyond that, as a child, you look towards siblings and older friends to see what the next cool shoes are. Perhaps, some didn’t care as much but for me, all of these influences led to an intense desire to own a pair of Nikes. The first that come to memory were some red Air Max Triax ’94s. I can’t source an image of the particular design but from there, the interest spiralled into obsession and irrational exuberance for the multitude of brands and designs thereafter.
In recent years, we have seen the likes of the Adidas Superstar and Nike Roshe Run surge in popularity. The latter proving that you can marry both style and comfort. The Superstar, perhaps, demonstrating the cyclical nature of retro fashion. Most recently, I invested in the PALACE, Adidas collaboration which lends design cues from several models incorporating technical innovation and breathability. This particular example showing the strength of collaboration, with big brands aligning themselves to arguably more subversive brands, musicians or sport stars to smartly gain a bigger reach. Whether it’s a musician like Kanye West or a designer like Jeremy Scott, the end result is a piece of footwear that us, as consumers use as means of expression. If you stretch that idea of expression a little further, Nike ID and Mi Adidas exemplify the pinnacle of subjective style, allowing the customer to express themselves to the last stitch on their footwear.
High end fashion houses have pushed the boundaries of design further by elevating this footwear to a couture level. Brands like Balenciaga, Chanel and Hermes use premium materials coupled with higher price points to entice a different audience. Hip hop culture is arguably responsible for the rising popularity in the streetwear silhouette comprised of oversized tees from the likes of Givenchy, fitted Balmain jeans and a pair of Maison Martin Margiela kicks.
It’s interesting to see how the fetishisation of trainers has permeated across the board. A landmark in this evolution is the Air Jordan 1, Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe, released in 1985 for retail purchase. interestingly, this Tinker Hatfield design was outlawed by the NBA upon release as the design didn’t have enough white on them. Jordan defied the commission anyway and was fined $5000 every time he played in them. A vast catalogue of Jordan releases would follow, most of them equally as covetable. The reselling market for original Jordans and other exclusive Nike and Adidas releases is very lucrative. A turning point documented in mainstream media that alerted many smart investors to the concept of reselling came in the form of Jeff Staple’s SB “Pigeon” Dunk. A shoe that caused riots upon release due to exclusivity.
Technology and innovation is much more prevalent in popular design now, coming a long way since the novelty days of air bubbles and Nike Shox. Many of these shoe's original purpose has been nullified as although designed for technical use such as running or skating, they are worn purely to make a fashion statement. Nike technology such as Flyknit uppers and Lunarlon soles or Adidas’ Primeknit and Boost technology used in football boots and running shoes have filtered down to more casual designs. Even Vans, a surf and skate company at heart, have gotten in the mix with their LVXI Ultracush soles and breathable uppers.
Throughout this piece I have illustrated some classic designs that are personal favourites. The Converse Chuck Taylor, with possibly the biggest demographic of all the shoes mentioned thus far is an iconic design. It has remained largely unchanged since it’s introduction in 1917, with it’s first design tweaks coming this year with the Taylor II. Without those plimsolls mentioned at the start of this meandering piece, we probably wouldn’t have Vans. There are several classics to choose from; the ’66 Authentics, Old Skool and Sk8-Hi models released in ’77 and ’78 respectively are definite go to pick ups. More recently Stefan Janoski’s signature shoe has risen in popularity, away from it’s skate roots, spawning the Lunar Janoski and Janoski Max. These latter designs demonstrate the re-appropriation and perhaps dilution of original design and purpose to cater to a bigger audience.
If you read all of this and thought, what the fuck? They’re just shoes, you’re probably part of the “normal” majority and power to you. However, some interesting questions arise from a single glance at someone’s feet. For some, it can reveal nuanced social aspirations, much in the same way a pair of heels or a bag will represent a woman’s taste. That glance could equally express thoughts about privilege, inclusion and envy. But on the whole, the subject is pretty overwhelming to discuss as there's so much variety. Pretty intriguing stuff, or not, depending on what you value. If you find you're extremely interested in this sort of thing, I have attached a cool monologue from Gary Aspden on another classic, the Adidas Stan Smith. Although I haven't worn a Stan Smith since about '06, I can see how this is possibly the greatest example of the insane amount of ways a shoe can have a cultural impact on style. Anyway, feel free to comment your favourite kicks below as I’m sure they are many that have gone unmentioned. Thanks for reading.