This is a few years old and was written for my friend Frank back in the Boylston Trading days to accompany the release of their excellent all-suede Forum Hi makeups. Looking at it now, I’m not 100% sure on details of the Forum Mid’s genesis, but I kind of like this. I see people talking about shoe prices in 2014 and shoes breaking $100 in the mid 1980s was far more shocking. Hustler-endorsed shoes are the best kind of shoes and I think that the Forum never had the marketing stories applied to it that it deserved. Plus I’m bored of seeing the same stuff about the same set of shoes written by idiots. I don’t buy this stuff about there being a “shoe culture” — it’s either kids who wore TOMS until 2011 getting excited about the same five silhouettes or elderly trainspotters moaning about shoe shapes. Both groups irritate me.
Deluged as we are with previews, retrospectives, forced heritage and the misguided notion that age alone confers classic status on a sneaker design, it’s worth singling out an example of perfect design that’s occasionally overlooked. adidas’ Forum Hi design hasn’t been forgotten in any way — in fact, the Forum had a low key anniversary celebration for its 25th year in 2008, resulting in the flawless Harput’s Forum Mid homage to the iconic Americana. But the high version of the shoe is the most definitive variation. At its best, the collaboration isn’t some cash-in blog filler. Instead it’s a love letter to everything a shoe and its related sub-cultures represent. We’ve been surrounded by reissues for so long that we’ve started to take adidas’ basketball legacy for granted, but it’s time that a few stories were told again.
Beyond adidas’ Superstar, the seeds of the Forum were sown at the dawn of the 1970s with the Americana and at the decade’s close with the wildly expensive Top 10 silhouette (which proportionally, would match the Forum’s price tag), that ushered in the dawn of the disc outsoles, as tested by Doug Collins, Kevin Grevey, Marques Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Bob Lanier, Bobby Jones, Sidney Wicks, Billy Knight, Mitch Kupchak and Kermit Washington. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar half-shelled designs and more obscure variants for the likes of Studio 54 tumble victim David Thompson reinforced that commitment to the ABA and NBA, with the materials and innovations — from the outsoles to the use of relevant reinforcement — leading the way above other companies of the time. PUMA produced some gems, and Nike’s commitment to running seemed to supersede their court offerings that decade, with the classic Blazer looking like a stripped-down Americana in the silhouette stakes. Entering the 1980s, the stakes were raised with some significant releases — the Air Force 1 and Legend from Nike made noise as Air debuted as a perfect vessel to play middleman between human and hardwood.
adidas’ response was to become increasingly advanced, offering premium designs based on pure performance. 1983’s Concord Hi felt like the logical evolution of the Top Ten, but the pick of patent and “Pearleto” leather makeups offered a luxurious shock-to-the-system for connoisseurs and players alike, but a Velcro strap emphasized support, Ghilly lacing ensured a perfect fit, and Foreflex forefoot build encouraged movement. At the same time, adidas still offered the Top Ten in a slightly modified Spezial form that smoothed out the original looks. In late 1984, the Forum Hi emerged. 1984 represents a significant year for trainer design, particularly from adidas, via some pivotal ZX and Lendl styles that echo in contemporary design, but the Forum may well be the most significant.
Absolute premium performance came courtesy of legendary adidas designer Jacques Chassaing (also involved in the development of shoes like the ZX 500) who took the task very seriously indeed. Evidently working to a money’s-no-object brief, his killer app was the winding crisscross support strap system that evolves the Concord’s system to cradle the foot with an application that formed an aesthetically pleasing ‘X’ on the Forum’s lateral side. With the strap fastening at an asymmetric angle, the heavily padded Made in France Forum looked like no shoe that had gone before (the Mid lacks that angular fastening, resulting in a slight loss of identity). And the rest? The thermomolded plastic heel counter, rubber Stabilo heel reinforcement, dual density inner sole, microcellular midsole, stitched and cemented outsole with multi discs (some versions were monotone on the outsole, while others offered a wildcard red disc, just as some added a suede panel to the collar and stripes, while some were all leather — there seems to be aesthetic differences between Patented and very early Patent Pending trefoil editions) plus a pick of two inaugural full grain leather colourways: white and navy or white and natural. The use of a chrome leather lining indicated that these were built to last too.
Then there was Bill Dellinger’s contribution to the Forum. Bill’s was a track coach of some significance — starting as assistant to Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and eventually becoming head coach for the Oregon Ducks track & field team. Just as Bill’s on-the-job obsession led to some performance breakthroughs, Dellinger created a webbing alongside inventor Ronald Stirtz (submitted for patent in 1979 under the catchy name, “Shoe with three-dimensionally transmitting shock-absorbing mechanism”) that became the Dellinger Web — an adidas technology that aided some running classics like the Oregon and New York. This polyamide netting would absorb ten percent of shock and disperse it outward rather than upward as well as offering a trampoline effect to improve stride. That supposed trampoline effect could benefit basketball too.
Exposed medially, the cutaway revealing the Dellinger Web over the microcellular foam was key to the Forum’s appeal. A breakthrough on a basketball shoe and the perfect ‘X’d out complement to the crisscross strap, there’d been nothing like the Forum before. A final factor in cementing the Forum’s legacy was a wild price tag — traditionally, the SRP is no harbinger of quality (for instance, PUMA’s flop RS computer running shoe logged in at a cool $200) but on cleaner designs, it reinforced the performance legitimacy of a product. A fellow Boston favourite in the shape of the New Balance 1300 running shoe arrived in late 1984 with the tagline “Mortgage the house” in reference to that $130 plus tax pricepoint, but the Forum’s $99.99 plus tax got there earlier and made it the most expensive basketball shoe ever made. It was several dollars costlier than the Nike Air Ship that Jordan wore for his Nike debut, more than the Jordan I (which hit sale racks while the Forum kept its aura) and almost three times more expensive than adidas basketball shoes like the Tourney. That created instant aspiration. A young Michael Jordan would wear a pair just prior to the Nike deal, as would Patrick Ewing (who would endorse several shoes in a similar vein).
In 1985, the Pro Shell would merge Superstar and Forum looks into a solitary shoe. The Forum’s Dellinger Web would inspire several more classics between 1986 and 1988. Patrick Ewing endorsed icons like the Rivalry, Conductor and Attitude got as much street love as they did court love — check the Latin Quarter images circa 1987 by X-Clan’s DJ Paradise to see how popular the Conductor and Attitude Lo were among a plethora of rap legends. Meanwhile, in Boston, a cursory glance at the cover of the Almighty RSO Crew’s 1988 excellent, We’re Notorious (“We’re notorious, like a drug kingpin“) offers a similar story in the Boston area. Fellow Bostonians like the TDS Mob can be seen adding the fabled Forum to that shoe roster in their videos too. Run-DMC’s 1987 adidas line encompassed some Dellinger aided designs that were made for the streets, despite the basketball styling — the Fleetwood, Eldorado and low cut Brougham didn’t come cheap on their debut and all offered a similar sole unit, displayed as a medial view on publicity materials. Despite the wave that followed, flicking through the 1987 Eastbay catalog, the Forum still carried a $100 SRP that was $20 above the Rivalry and $40 above the Conductor with copy that reads succinctly: “Still the best.”
It goes without saying that expensive footwear and the drug trade goes hand in hand and during the crack era, dealers made shoes as desirable as the athletes paid to wear them. The Forum fell into that category, and Boston became an adidas city. There, the Forum was a shoe for the moneyed, successful and ruthless. That created a certain appeal, and the city’s sports footwear history remains unheralded — a Boston Globe story from December 1988 on legendary Boston stores Mickey Finn and Crystals depicts plenty of cash changing hands — “Deke Hill, who is 18 and lives in Mattapan, Mass., figures he has 60, maybe 70, pairs of sneakers…These days, Hill favors adidas Forums, a high top shoe that sell for between $100 and $110. He owns four pairs of Forums. Each is white, but all of them have a different color pinstripe: blue, black, red or white. “Which pair depends on what I’m wearing,” Hill explains, “Color coordinated.”
That same piece discusses the quest for fresh on the back of the city’s drug trade. The following March, the Globe’s ‘Gang Rivalry on the Rise in Boston‘ article report would discuss the dress code of the region and the Intervale Posse, their ‘adidas Park’ territory and the “adidas Tree” where shoes were slung (the tree is visible in a TDS Mob press shot). Coinciding with several Intervale arrests, the tree was cut down in the mid 1990s. In 1991, New Jack City’s dumb, fun, drug fable used some high top adidas (that looked like Phantom Hi) on its flashback scenes to typify the bulky, vial slanging excess of the era. Forums would have been a better choice — even in 1989, there were verbal reports of Brooklynites bugging out over the white and green variations.
By 1990, the Forum was available in Mid and Low forms (pre-empting the Uptown on the three heights by nearly half a decade), but with a wealth of other, more advanced and expensive shoes on the market, they lost their position as the costliest shoes on the market but literally gained a crown in terms of regional SMUs, with “Crest” editions appearing for a short while in regional Foot Lockers, replacing that trefoil branding in line with a boom for monotone and suede shoes, plus the lavish living brands like Polo among a small band of loyalists still preoccupied with the shoe. Even Boston’s own Mark Wahlberg (in weak rapper mode) broke out a blue suede pair with white stripes and let that Velcro strap hang loose for several photoshoots. Bobbito’s ‘Confessions of a Sneaker Addict’ article in May 1991’s (but written in winter 1990) The Source emphasized the Forum’s Bostonian love too, already hinting at the national and global spread of rarer colourways, with his black Lows found in New Orleans. While all eyes are on the likes of Grand Puba for shoes, fellow Elektra artist CL Smooth’s footwear picks were flawless too and his barbershop chair wear of some black Forums on the cover of They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) is notable.
The Forum got a makeover in the early 1990s. In Japan, some fine examples of the original emerged during the later 1990s, but adidas’s 1997 decision to make the trefoil a heritage logo and the 2001 Originals push instigated the next wave of Forums. The High variation was frequently sidelined in favour of the Mids and Lows. Despite a slew of makeups over the last few years, it was Jeremy Scott’s ‘Money’ variations that displayed the most understanding of the shoe’s legacy when they debuted in 2002. Of course, subtlety isn’t Scott’s stock-in-trade, but it amplified what the shoe really represents, from the lifestyles to the model’s positioning on the shelves. Over time, that status seems to have been ignored in favour of lesser designs and let’s pretend that 2008’s abominable Consortium Forum ADV that made a concerted effort to make the shoe look like an Air Force 1 never happened.
It’s all about aspiration, reappropriation and the stories that the brands can’t necessarily promote. That’s the foundation for classic basketball shoes and the key to longevity. The adidas Forum Hi is one of the greatest shoe designs ever. Those that know, know. The rest can keep on gorging on those flavours of the month with the unhealthy additives.