Because I like trainers, and it’s relatively well-documented, it’s assumed that I’ll be keen on anything that’s trainer-related that isn’t actually a pair of shoes. During a boom time, most stuff that isn’t from the actual brands is just cash-in tat, and I’ve had a few emails from people scheming some ill-fated sounding documentaries. Your documentary will run thusly: footage of queues (with a few interviews with excitable individuals ranting about resellers), at least one dude standing in front of a wall with a legal piece on it, dull footage from some kind of convention, some bloke in a sparsely shelved boutique, interviews with the same bunch of “influencer” dudes who are pretty much omnipresent anyway, a footballer who bought a load of shoes at a mark up (plus a couple of fakes) during the last 24 months, a depressingly token female collector, a rapper collared at some kind of store event talking about Jordans with excess background sound, and a quick collage of some guys with rooms full of Nike boxes from the last three years, complete with a Drake instrumental in the background. Feel free to prove me wrong, and if I am, I’ll almost certainly write something excitable about it for you somewhere. My guess is that it’ll be a shitty Just For Kicks knockoff. Why not just single out a solitary subject and run with it? I want to see a film dedicated to the dwindling state of mom and pop stores, about the Adi/Rudi rivalry, or on the golden age of the British sporting chains.
On the latter topic, it’s crazy how the shops that reached every provincial town, where most of us saw our first Air Max, ZX or Air Jordan haven’t just shut their doors or been assimilated into a bigger chain they’ve vanished from the digital landscape too. Their boom times were back in a time when only boffins had the internet, so there’s only slivers of information online.
Brits in their late twenties and above might recall a time before the scattering of trend-led spots with exactly the same sets of upper-tier shoes. Back in the 1990s, there was Olympus Sport, First Sport, Allsports, Champion Sports, Cobra Sports and its spinoff Cobra Frontier, Intersport, Sports Division (which, as I recall, took over Olympus shops in the mid 1990s before JJB bought them). But to Google them, bar LinkedIns pages of sport industry veterans and snippets of business and marketing archives, it’s as if they never existed. Olympus — a store I spent hours in, staring at shoes and asking for leaflets and catalogues — has just vanished, despite its colossal contribution to the trainer obsession that became a monster. Some of them were still standing until the mid 2000s. It’s understandable that they faltered and fell, due to bad business decisions, stiff competition, rapid expansion and takeover bids, plus the internet’s ascent as the shopping method of choice, but it’s unusual that they barely left a note for us to remember them by. Perhaps it’s better that they vanished completely, than become a sickly imitation of themselves like Regent Street’s Lilywhites, which went from selling Italian sportswear and the kind of specialist gym equipment that oligarchs would buy to Donnay shoes and Dunlop luggage in a couple of decades. Going there is like visiting your formerly high-flying friend, only to find out that he’s been sacked, disinherited and is living off Nurishment and the occasional Pork Farm product.
For a while, I found myself assuming that Cobra Frontier was just something I dreamt up. I could at least find a picture of a flagship Olympus Sports (nothing else though). I know my more learned friends will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure Frontier started as an instore section of Cobra that traded in Timberlands, adidas Adventure, Merrell and Nike ACG, before it became a set of shops (that I’m sure, outlasted or took over standard Cobra Sports doors). Then I found this gloriously basic short film online that looks like it’s from early 1998. Looking like a college project and full of music and the occasional slo-mo blur that defines the era, beyond the skate park footage and obligatory graf, there’s a whole section filmed in a Cobra Frontier branch, with a wall full of Air Max and Terra gems, from a time when B-list celebs wandering out the Met Bar in a yayo daze made trail shoes seem like they’d supersede runners. Sarah Atkins, I salute you for making a trainer documentary that’s almost certainly better than any more ambitious production for those few minutes alone.