Fig. 1 – A fake Jordan release.

Sorry. Couldn’t find one piece of info for a blog on Soho books and literary influence. So I trawled the harddrive in the meantime and found this rambling nonsense. Apologies that it’s based around athletic footwear, and apologies that it makes sweeping generalisations, assumptions and swoops across entire histories incoherently. It was scrapped for that very reason. In fact, reading back through it, I hate this piece.  It does however, fill my OCD for semi-regular blog updates and allows me to sleep tonight.

Even if you’re a blog scribe, hardened by the occasional bone thrown by brands to keep your tail wagging and your site as sycophantic as possible, there’s a sense of righteousness that makes itself known when fakes get discussed. Mainly because regardless of how many decades spent poring over Far Eastern catalogue magazines, store shelves and Runner’s Worlds, the majority, whether they care to admit it, have had their fingers burnt by unscrupulous imitators. It’s a climate of fear.

For years, friends and family returned looking swarthy from a 70 litre rucksack rite-of-passage across South Eastern Asia with some truly bizarre Swooshed creations on their feet, some convincing, some possibly pilfered from the production line, and others, looking like super lo-fi versions of shelf staples that only the truly clueless, or someone who’s been quaffing Mekong would fall for. Sometimes you could listen to their talk of dirt-cheap prices, how they got their shoes for mere baht from a sports shop down an alleyway. Sometimes it just seemed right to nod politely, other times bursting their bargain bubble with a simple, “They’re fake” was the way to go.

Having seen enough poorly-stitched oddities brought back as souvenirs it’s a shame the opportunity or inclination never materialised to document them sufficiently. On another occasion a schoolmate whose folks had not a pot to piss in lifted up an unbranded Vector silhouette’s midsole after 400 metres to reveal a fastened Nike-branded midsole beneath.

To tell the truth, locally, a knockoff was a little more flagrant in the late ’80s. Dullards never tire of telling us that no idea’s original, but what dropped then was the bottom of the barrel, Nicks and Gola took classic running designs and sullied them with their budget branding, then there was LA Gear, recreating the Reebok 54.11 with none of its original appeal, and straight jacking the Jordan IV, while adding its own non-working faux-Air technology to the mix, while the dawn of crack-fuelled, Dapper Dan friendly brands like Troop and the lesser SPX were just badly embellishing cross training staples by adding audacious applications to existing DNA – the Italian high cost side of things like Travel Fox was little better in its approach to existing hi-top silhouettes.

But even the fly-by-night high roller footwear had imitations in the shape of heavily padded, python texture addled mid-cuts in black and white with fictional foreign sounding brand names in a bid to look exotic for those balling on a budget. How’s about that? Imitations of blatant imitations.

So where exactly is this reminiscing heading? Shoe faking and variants are nothing new, but there seemed to be less guile – to actually get nostalgic about a black market like this is peculiar, but like old gangsters might ruminate, there seemed to be rules. There seemed to be a faintly bungling element to the whole thing – a charm. Things weren’t so complicated. Of course, that’s through a particularly rose-tinted pair of Ray Bans. Those heavy pre-movie DVD warnings you can’t skip through bark about the industry funds, and regardless of the years that have passed, perhaps Gareth’s bizarre Air Mad Max knockoff helped the Khmer Rouge to put a down payment on a boxfresh Kalashnikov. It was all fun and games, even through the cartoonishly dumbed-down Jordan 10-alikes brought back from a pre handover Hong Kong business trip.

Until you, yourself get caught slipping. This is the age of terror. Paranoia, surveillance and extraordinary rendition. You pick a pair up for a dollar beneath current market rates and you’re heading for sleepless nights after you follow PayPal’s page-by-page demands to cough up. Ask for as many seller’s pictures as you like, but are they just stock imagery of the real deal? What will turn up? Seller based in Asia? Easier access to fakes, but also a route to the real deal, maybe before release, and a region where collector culture was truly defined. It’s a minefield.

Day-by-day, constant exposure to horror stories, buyers getting stung, no-shows, or the final slap in the face – a bootleg arrival. So much terror is installed in fact, that when the damned things finally arrive, looking to all intensive purposes, as they were advertised, they sit in a box after initial scowling scrutiny. What’s that loose stitch? Why is that midsole paint job so sloppy on close inspection? It can get psychosomatic – imperfections seem to snowball by the day. So back to the packaging they go, where they sit mocking you – the telltale shoe. 200 USD down. Just think what that money could have been spent on, and to think! A possible dent in your teflon connoisseur reputation. Except for all the worry, they were actually real.

To continue a mildly distasteful analogy, while day-to-day tasks have taken on an aura of menace under the current global climate, the overground climb for sneaker culture in the early ’00s fueled a parallel concern. If a daily commute hadn’t just become a worry, the simple things in life were fraught too. Just enjoying the innocent pleasures of a shoe habit became a worry. And technology just expedited it.

While we could work a hookup on some Stussy Huaraches through Niketalk in between going about our daily routine, Dunks were heading for a boom beyond the core of knowledgeable characters who’d been snapping them up cheap in ’97/’98, and with Bodecker and the Pro Lo’s genesis, plus Alyasha and Drew ushering in the SB Dunk Lo hypetrain, plus the AF1, despite maintaining NY staple status for a good 9 years prior, and already being nearly 2 decades old, getting some of the strongest makeups to date around that time, and the dawn of some very considered collaborations (which of course, dwindled into brand gangbangs as a norm, and devalued the notion somewhat – but that, my friends, is another bitter rant altogether) made the resale market the perfect place to profit on new as well as rare, vintage pieces.

And when the model stayed static, as the world finally got the point of more specific retros, and decided to play it safe and stay retrospective, long after the perplexed reception to the AJ1 returning in ’94, colourways, fabrics and embroidered heel details became the key alterations. Manna from heaven for the fakers. Just look what idiots are willing to pay the day after release! If they don’t want to shift from the Dunk silhouette, there’s plenty of time to hone that crude replica into something far more convincing. To suddenly get the chance to clone something released years before the super-bootlegged AM95 must’ve made the job easier too.

The sheer number of sites to spring up beyond the obvious auction destination is staggering. Ever sought-after design is in stock with a same price system throughout. Take yourself to the likes of www.cheap-sneaker.com to see the audacity of not just providing a bootilicious collection of shoes that veers from the rarely seen to Air Maxes that are still cropping up on saleracks and discount warehouses, but creating their own mad takes on the Jordan line and its many hybrids and spinoffs – blood red check on a Force and V hybrid? Spongebob on a Dub Zero? IVs available in the entire Pantone spectrum? You got it.

Bizarrely juggling declarations of 100 percent authenticity with bizarre disclaimers, we’re all aware of their boiler room style tactic of closing then reopening under a different but equally bombastic site name to evade legal woes, but their position in allotted hype site ad spaces at one point, and audacity in taking up physical ad space in glossies like XXL was surely the crafty copycats flying a little too close to the sun?

Perhaps, but with major label acts like Hurricane Chris merrily sauntering around in knockoffs, much like an approach to originality and focus on an individual sound within hip-hop being less of a going concern, biting in footwear was ignored too. The era of colour matching throwback jerseys and New Eras to almost pathological levels, and the dayglo floodgate Nigo unleashed with his shiny Skittles approach to his own Uptown knockoff created a desire for the gaudier side of things. And how did big brands react to this?

By playing the fake sites at their own game.

But this is far from a happy ending. In the last few years, we’ve seen sacred cows turned into circus elephants, with the big hitters peddling official wares in some of the most ruinous shades yet seen – some indicating the skilled craft of providing fabric executions and colourways was being directly informed by the online catalogues of crude fictional makeups springing up left, right and centre online. And in terms of build quality, where once we could chuckle at what was clearly a fake, with its cracking paint, poor resemblance to the true source material and cheap materials, unless there’s an indicator of premium on the box and markup to match, for the most part the real deal is comparable to the knock offs. Maybe it’s some Sun Tzu style war tactic to defeat the enemy by absorbing its technique.

Give it time and we’ll be weeding out a fake by its superior execution.

Don’t take this as a defense of clones. Some might look at this scrutiny with bemusement – if that cheaper take is comparable to an official release, then why worry? Because fakery defeats the object of wearing the damned things.

Those in the know will clown you, and even if their opinion means nada in your world, the point of lusting after a design in childhood, then finally getting it on your feet is lost if you settled for the cheap option. You failed. If you can saunter around happily in the knowledge that the shoes on your feet are fake, then you’re kidding yourself. At every level, the experience of purchase, opening them up and wearing them hinges on authenticity. Because if there’s fakes on your feet, someone somewhere, from an observer to the seller, is laughing at you. No one wants that.

On the bright side, at least they’re unlikely to imitate the Mad Max again. Buy your rugged runners with confidence. For piece-of-mind don’t follow the investment-led, populist route. At time of writing, the chances of picking up shady Wildedges remains low, so if ever there was an incentive to keep out of step with the fly-by-nights, faking is it. Stay off the beaten track, and your horde might remain authentic without the insomnia.

Fig. 2 – A real Jordan release.