Tag Archives: 1980s

GOALS

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During a recent European excursion (all will be revealed at some point in the next few weeks), I got to learn a little more regarding the cultural history of ultra-comfortable French and Portuguese made casual footwear. Mephisto has become a source of fascination for me — the antidote to over marketed obviousness — and showcased alongside several other archive images, including some German and French league shirts and Mephisto branded hoardings at pitches, this (according to my source) lower league club’s late 1980s kit included this incredible Hummel goalie shirt with Mephisto sponsorship and an image of the brand’s trademark Rainbow silhouette. It’s a thing of wonder. If you know, you know. Those demonic M’s on the collar are a magnificent touch too.

JEWELL IS A GEM

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Dick Jewell is a gem in the pantheon of legendary British photographers and filmmakers. Resolutely uncommercial (even his commercial work maintains a sense of subversion), Jewell prefers to create work on his own terms — a vast archive that spans found photo booth shots and club scenes that are long extinct. He’s still as fascinated by the literal movements within movements, clusters of outsiders, tribes and the barely documented. Finally grabbing Hysteric Glamour’s compilation of his work from 2001 sent me to his website, with a great little archive of his video work — Notting Hill Carnival 83 > 86 and Skins are incredible. I’d love to see the Spats film in its entirety too. Before everyone had a camera in their pocket (and I’m sure we’re missing something regardless), Dick was there capturing this superior Super 8 footage for posterity.



EXPENDABLE INCOME

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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.

Design for a high-top shoe

High-top shoe

High-top shoe

DUFFER

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Nearly everywhere I go, the folks in charge who know what they’re talking about seem to have Duffer affiliations of some sort. If your perception of the Duffer of St George brand is from the Debenhams and JD affiliations that put it on the high street, that’s just part of the story.

This is a store than seems to have involved a slew of characters over the years, launched a lot of brands and for Duffer alumni, there seems to have been quite a success rate through talent and the sheer volume of connections made on the job. Inspired by the title of a Richard Lyne story called The Duffer of St George’s in The Champion Book for Boys — the kind of story compendium depicting an instantly dated, otherworldly view of Britain — it’s the brainchild of Marco Cairns, Eddie Prendergast, Barrie Sharpe (an early adopter in reappropriating a 1950s look) and Clifford Bowen who started the company 1984 as a market stall shifting vintage army surplus, baker boy hats and workwear (which had undergone a resurgence via magazines like The Face), leading to further acquisitions and custom footwear creations.

In 1985, the Portabello Street store opened and in September of that year, Duffer and Barry Sharpe’s pioneering rare groove Cat in the Hat night started at the Comedy Club in Leicester Square with Sharpe and friends DJing before it moved to the Limelight on Shaftesbury Avenue with guests like Norman Jay, then shifted to Mayfair with an emphasis on house, garage and disco. Resurrecting and introducing brands at the Portabello store, their own mix of luxury, tradition and flamboyance would spawn a look based on their own perception of cool at street level — streetwear in its truest form. One example was the ‘Yardie Cardie’ look (check it out here in the V&A archives) that merged dancehall, casual and Italian style — Sharpe’s own Sharpeye line periodically puts out makes a great version of that cardigan.

In 1987, the Soho Duffer store opened on D’Arblay Street and pushed a smooth but psychedelic 1970s look that made them responsible for a full-on revival that would connect to the acid jazz (which Sharpe would be integral to) boom’s look at the end of the decade. During the Soho years the fixation with deadstock old school trainers, a preoccupation with selvedge lines on denim and aspirations to own some Schott can all be blamed on Duffer and four stripe tracksuits and Barnzley’s oft-imitated smiley face shirts shifted from the shelves. They fueled the baseball cap boom around 1990 and would create their own hats as well as bringing New Era to London and doing parodies of high-end lines like Gucci long before it was played-out. Duffer would be sold in NYC via James Jebbia and Mary Ann Fusco’s Union store and Japan seemed smitten with their offerings too. Not content with creating its own products and setting up their own stores to cater to and create an audience, Duffer would help set up shows for the new breed of maverick menswear designers.

After the opening of the Covent Garden store in 1993 and with Duffer still creating trends and being some of the original resellers with their knack for picking up products like the Nike Air Rift and selling them for wild markups, investors entered the picture and Sharpe left to set up the aforementioned Sharpeye line (another of the great British brands), complete with a series of stores. By the late 1990s, the heavily branded Duffer zip hoody was a status symbol with a certain mass appeal about it as well as taking their footwear rollout more seriously to coincide with that popularity, resulting in their strange Spanish and Italian made asymmetric, centre seamed and driving shoe styles – with a hint of Clarks – under the Yogi name.

Duffer would expand to several stores before almost going under in 2008, but after the Duffer by St George pieces for Debenhams were borne from a 2007 deal, JD Sports got involved and made it theirs — now the puffa and retro trainer realm that Duffer helped forge is a norm and JD push that look, so, while it’s a long way from the detail orientated one-upmanship of the Duffer brand of old, it makes a certain sense. Eddie Prendergast and Steve Davies went on to found Present in east London, which keeps the old Duffer store spirit (the ability to edit and preempt) alive and Marco Cairns is still with Duffer, whose Japanese license pieces feel closer to the mid 1990s Duffer approach.

But that’s just my own rambling and it misses a lot of key moments and other pieces of the timeline (I’m open to all corrections) — the Duffer story deserves to be told by those who were there, because its influence on how southerners dress and how British menswear stores are stocked is colossal. The people that made clothes based on how the sharper man on the street was dressing ended up influencing how the man on the street dresses as well as the cool kids too.

With that in mind, this Kickstarter campaign to fund a short Duffer documentary, Style Brokers: the story of Duffer of St George makes a lot of sense. Go visit Strike Pictures’ page there and help make this happen. I always wanted to see a good retrospective article on Duffer’s history and legacy, but a film is a far better proposition — I hope they manage to speak to all involved.

DUCK

carhartthunting1980s

Hold up — is it okay to post workwear related stuff again? Are Primark ditching 60/40 jacket knockoffs for Damir Doma imitations? Looking at glimpses of the impending Supreme drop,it looks like arty all-over prints are back again – after the L’Origine du Mond reproduction put a pussy on the chest of kids with expendable income (and the owner of the aforementioned pussy has apparently been located to give one lucky person the ultimate resell action), is that flower print a Power, Corruption & Lies Peter Saville homage, or is it a tribute to the source material by Henri Fantin-Latour? I get confused by all the tributes myself, but the prospect of gear that uses that imagery is cool with me. Just wait until the Supreme-alikes unleash the Chelsea Flower Show on fleece in response. I’m in the middle of two copywriting assignments this weekend, despite pledging to put writing on the backburner, so I can only offer you a by-numbers blog post. I still read long form copy from before the #hashtag era for inspiration whenever I’m working on a project and I’m a huge fan of Carhartt’s 1980s ads. Much has been printed and reproduced regarding Hamilton’s company and their no-nonsense Depression-era ads, with their emphasis on value and longevity, but I like looking at their 1985-1993 campaigns for that smart move not to address a growing trend-led audience. I believe some of these were published in those brand books that contained an excellent set of brand histories, but I’m feeling lazy and duck canvas is still one of the beautifullest things in the world.

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WATERPROOFED

Apologies for turning this blog into one of those stone-faced, wordless, image blogs for one night only. That wasn’t my avowed intention. This imagery was way too nostalgic and olde world to leave alone without spotlighting some newness down below. But it fell by the wayside because I got waylaid watching the Crufts 2011 finals (that boxer was robbed, yo) and reading about The Idler magazine’s new Idler Academy in west London. I lost concentration entirely.

All I can offer this evening is what was on my hard drive after I pillaged the ‘Backpacker’ archive for imagery pertaining to outdoor performance between 1973 and 1996. The project never amounted to anything, but I know a few like minds who might get a kick out of it. Hell, there’s plenty of right-clickers who might want to stick ‘em on their Tumblrs and claim them as their own. I don’t care, seeing as I borrowed them from a magazine in the first place.

The Columbia, Du Pont, Vasque, Marmot, Universal and Pivetta ads are particularly strong. In the current climate of outdoorsy one-upmanship (a trend that seems to have stuck), I’ll take this copy-heavy, utilitarian focus over the fey drivel that’s inappropriately applied to rugged gear throughout the blog world. I’ve been fixating on the Thinsulate labelling lately as one of my favourite pieces of branding. It’s democratic too compared to the steep price tags on steep incline wear that bears another personal favourite — the GORE-TEX tab.

Beyond the official North Face hookups, I loved Supreme’s woolly hat homage to the Thinsulate branding (not to be mistaken for the Thinsulate Supreme technology) in the vein of their Patagonia tributes.

Normal windy, wordy and pretentious service should resume next week.