“The first house call anyone can remember the Nike Lady making was to the Seinfeld set. Her impact was immediate–especially on the show’s star, who apparently had an unambiguous sense of entitlement. Seinfeld’s appetite for free sneakers became legendary. His office overflowed with shoe boxes, and one ex-writer remembers Jerry emerging “like Evita, tossing extra sneakers to the staff.” In time the staff members too became hooked, and for them Tracy provided a catalog in which they could check off whatever they wanted. “It was everything–running shoes, hiking boots, sandals. People were taking up extreme sports just to get the shoes.” (From ‘Sneakers In Tinseltown’ by Garry Trudeau — Time Magazine, April 1998)
Back in 2010, during an email back and forth with Mr. Carbone and Mr. La Puma at Complex, I suggested that a top 50 sneakers in Seinfeld would be a good thing. “But it might need some research!” I wrote. No shit. If you look at Complex’s analytics, presentation and timeline invading social media savvy you know that they’re not dreamers like me, content to put an idea out there, then leave it in a ponder state for a prolonged amount of time. They’re doers. And thus it came to pass that they requested the guide last month. And I was ready, albeit not quite ready for the scale of the screengrabbing task at hand.
Especially when VLC stops working on some discs and I have to resort to screengrabbing by entering a code on Terminal each cap to do it on the MacBook’s notoriously by-the-book built-in player. But I always wanted to do this one — I was going to do it on here, but I got discouraged by the prospect of uploading images. So here it is, on Complex.com. Shouts to Dan in the Department of Nike Archives for his patience in clarifying some of the more mysterious entries too.
But because I know some of the folks who visit here like trivia, I made a few more discoveries along the way. I never really noticed that Jerry puts his Nikes (Driving Force Low) in the picture from the slightly crappy 1989 pilot episode onwards. I assume it’s because he is a bonafide Nike fan, but I’m sure he was aware that a spot of product placement would help his case. Bear in mind it took until the third season to really breakthrough (when Jerry’s at least 25 screen shoes deep) and faced the axe up to that point. It’s no mystery that Nike did flow Jerry product (there’s even articles that mention his love of seeded footwear, taking delivery of vast piles).
Between seasons one and six he wears a ton of Nike footwear, from ACG to Jordans. Then suddenly it comes to a halt just prior to episode 100. Around 1992, ‘Home Improvement’ (word to Tim Allen’s Hot Lava Tech Challenge II) and the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ were laden with lengthy scenes with a prominent swoosh or Jumpman. Jerry’s frequently tarred with the assumption that he’s a tennis shoe wearer — that’s certainly the case for a substantial amount of episodes, but I’d argue that he’s more of an Air Trainer and Cross Trainer man — technically those can be utilized on the court (and looking back at the crossover concept’s 1987 debut, John McEnroe was the face before Bo ever knew) — when Jerry could evidently afford his own tennis court, he seems to opt for some extremely technical performance designs built for that sport.
Did FCC regulations crack down in 1994 to stop excessive product placement? After that comes the “brown shoe era” wherein Jerry rarely wears sneakers unless he’s in a sporting environment. ‘The Race’ represents a parting shot for the product placement, with him swooshed from the neck down, but after that, spotting a sneaker on him is reserved for tennis scenes, softball or gym scenes and some scenes surrounding them. He sneaks a Force-branded holdall in periodically, but his crafty Sampras shoe (the Repete) in ‘The Understudy’s (the finale of the sixth season) opening is the sole throwback to the earlier showcases of classics.
After all the Jerry having 500 pairs of white shoes rumours and the 1998 ‘Time’ article that depicted LA-based sneaker giver to the stars, Tracy Hardy-Gray flooding primetime with product, it’s strange that Jerry seems to curb his enthusiasm four years prior. It’s actually the least sporty who don their sneakers the most in subsequent episodes — George remains committed to Cortez (though he actually wears Reebok in the earliest episodes — possibly a GL model of some sort) and curiously, Newman gets his money’s worth out of a pair of the mighty Structure II. For a workshy postal employee to wear such an advanced performance piece with the Foot Bridge technology) may have been part of the joke.
It’s reassuring to know that when Lloyd Bridges’s Izzy Mandelbaum enters the scene in the final two seasons, we’re going to get a flash of white leather and a swoosh as a subsequent shot, but for some reason, Jerry opts for some Vasque-looking boots, wheat Timbs (in just a couple of shots) and most commonly, some bad Rockport looking moc-toed shoes with a rubber sole that make Larry’s Simple shoes look advanced by comparison. End of an era. I loved the days when even Frank Costanza’s cape-clad lawyer walked on Air.
I have to admit that it’s not entirely complete. A few shoes eluded me — the mids with the black swoosh in ‘The Barber,’ the white shoe from ‘The Old Man’, the mids in ‘The Wife’ and the all white upper tennis-looking designs from the same season (five) are all mysterious to me. Any identifications in the comments section would be much appreciated to put my mind to rest because I had to tap out on those models. Sadly there was no room for more than a mention of the mysterious Air Seinfeld shoe – a canvas Nike GTS with a Jordan homage on the heel, given to the crew in 1994 as a holiday gift, possibly as the 99th episode wrapped and the 100th episode was edited. ‘Home Improvement’ got a shoe (I believe it’s an Air Edge II SMU) for their 100th episode in 1995 too.
While we’re talking ‘Seinfeld’, kudos to the bootlegger who knew that all whiteys look the same. ‘Frasier’? ‘Married With Children’? Nobody would ever know the difference…