Because I’ve got nothing better to do, there’s not a lot of childhood nostalgia I haven’t ticked off to some degree. I’m still hunting the name of a movie where a wheelchair-bound man was terrorised by a computer that controlled his house and I want to know the model name of the mid-cut adidas shoes I owned that had a nylon quilting all over the upper, but other than that, everything else has a name, year and some kind of contextual place in my mind. On revisiting it, most of it wasn’t that good but the unknown can get sugar-coated by nostalgia rounding the edges and giving it a soft-focus. What I dId like was my adidas Pro Conference Hi.
Obsessed with the Metro Attitude (which I never saw on sale in my town), I ended up with these. I may have been unable to find a size 7.5 non-Air Nike (£39.99 or below before discount was the only way at the time) at the Champion Sports concession upstairs at Bedford’s Burton store in 1988 and grabbed these as a second-choice, but I recall wanting adidas hi-tops with the ridges on the heel and the Pro Conference Hi fitted the bill. Pivotal models from my childhood like the PUMA Jopper and Nike Bongo kids’ models are unlikely to be reissued (the Jopper was — kind of — a takedown of the California that has been retroed and the Bongo, as has been discussed here, was the junior version of the underwhelming Bravo model). These were my first adult sized shoes though.
Looking back, the Pro Conference Hi seems like a shoe out of its time — Decade style slimline tooling with the ’88 heel application, unlike the expensive Dellinger webbed, big tongued shoes of the time. My brother called them “ice skates” because they lacked the b-boy bulk that was desirable at the time and I wore them strangled with an early iteration of a mullet and hand-me-down denim with the back in the days (actually, the faded denim look remains). I wrecked them skating (like a true grommet) in a matter of months. It was odd to be reacquainted with the adidas Pro Conference Hi as a reissue (in the colourway I would have chosen if it had been available at the time) as a retro from Originals. Strange rubberised stripes and that angled adidas font gave me flashbacks — it’s an unlikely one to.rerelease (presumably the Decade’s retro makes it an affordable one to resurrect) but what was a budget offering at the time seems to look a lot better now and to have a shoe made of actual leather is a novelty. Shitty leather or pleather is the enemy of footwear memories.
The Rivalry Hi (which I chose these over as a sample) was a budget shoe too back in the day, but the array of colours it dropped in popularised it, yet this one resonated with me a little more. It wasn’t a French-made masterpiece like the adidas boots that took prime catalogue space, but there’s something about the Pro Conference that resonates with me in the present day. It’s a shame that the current shoe boom doesn’t have the cheaper takedowns that will spark similar memories for the next generations — I get the impression that the days of a shoe becoming a cult favourite because of its popular pricepoint are over, because people want the shoe by any means necessary. Compromise created some unlikely classics.