Tag Archives: trainers

REGIONAL VARIATIONS

jdsports1998

There isn’t much to talk about here that can match the greatness of this Medium entry (shouts to Gotty for the heads up) by mauludSADIQ that’s absolutely mandatory if you’re interested in learning a little about those days when there seemed to be staggering amounts of regional variation, however fleeting, when it came to athletic footwear (Atlanta having a brief love for the Champion 3 on 3 shoe was news to me — I thought that was a Euro phenomenon). Read and take notes. Incidentally, the above image is part of a page from a 1998 issue of The Face magazine and Paul Gorman’s long-teased book on that magazine, Legacy: the Story of the Face apparently has a November release date, though, from my few experiences with publishing, that is liable to change. Then change again.

THE BRITISH SPORTS SHOP

olympussport

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.

britishsportshops

humarasfrontier

SHOES

Getting some questions fired my way by my friend Mr David Hellqvist aka. The Baron, who’s running the online element of the mighty ‘Port’ magazine on the subject of sports footwear, I was left pondering what my problem is with the term “sneakerhead” and the notion of “sneaker culture” (other than the use of the term “sneaker” if you’re a Brit, which sounds as awkward as when white people say “riddim” or “swag”) — they sum up a certain mindset that I find difficult to fathom. I don’t understand how a “sneaker culture” could ever exist alone?

To me, “sneaker culture” is a form of in-breeding that feeds off itself rather than outside forces to become a big game of soggy biscuit (probably the fifth time I’ve used exactly the same circle jerk analogy on here – it hints at some kind of psychological problem). It turns something that was once affiliated with a certain level of style into moody polybagged pedantry worthy of the comic book guy from ‘The Simpsons.’ Kids get clowned for getting some fruity nickname wrong. Wore becomes “UNds’d” and bought becomes “copped.” People take a strange obsession with whether other people wear what they buy. If they can’t afford it, people weep over social media instead of finding something cheaper, different and just as good (which, if memory serves me, was the backbone of shoe hoarding back in the day). People who queue overnight for a colourway berate “Hypebeasts” for getting into stuff for some supposed wrong reason.

The minute you can be shoehorned into a top ten list of things you “sneakerheads” do, it’s probably time to get out that beige box. Shorn of sub-cultural affiliations and reasons for wearing something beyond the prestige of limited edition it’s just men staring at each other’s feet solemnly and sportswear turned into an unrelenting wish list hindered by an anxiety over what drops the following weekend. If your emotional attachments are with the shoes rather than the cultures they’re attached to, something’s gone wrong. Without the shoeboxes clogging up my everyday existence, I’d be liberated — without the music, skate and pop cultural ephemera that trips me up every morning, I’d be miserable.

Each to their own, but while I’m still disturbingly enthusiastic about trainers and the cultures they fit into, the world of the “sneakerholic” and whatever godawful exhibition, t-shirt brand or — worst of all — mainstream feature that begins with something insipid like “Watch out Imelda Marcos!” is a baffling mystery to me. There aren’t many things that begin with “Sneaker” that don’t make me want to self-harm (shouts to my buddies at Sneaker Freaker and Sneaker News though — definitely exempt from this rant), but the po-faced world it seems to have spawned in the last 24 months is something I want to keep a distance from. Salutes to everyone who just amasses boxes and appreciates shoes without having to buy the matching hat.

PRIMETIME TRAINERS 1991-1992

This week I was fairly excited to see Questlove enthusiastically Tweeting about the Complex piece on films and shoes that I wrote last year and was pretty pleased with, despite a muted response. At the same time I put that together, I started drafting a top TV moments list, but I got rid of it, because for all my ‘Seinfeld’ love, my favourite TV and trainer moments are a little more localised, and they’d just make people agitated. While kids are queuing and getting angry with each other on YouTube over sports footwear in 2012, back in the early 1990s, as prices rocketed and technology got increasingly stupid, there were a spate of footwear plots on shows that were big in the UK, On the more populist front, I like the fact the Assassin shoe in the 1991 ‘Simpsons’ episode (with a fictional price tag of $125) that key influencer Ned Flanders inspires Homer into buying. I especially like the way it evokes the impending Yeezy 2 in its shape and applications. Neddy was ahead of the curve. But that doesn’t touch two rarely discussed storylines that worked in the deadly serious subject of basketball shoe theft on BBC1 during the 5pm to 6pm slot via ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours.’

In winter 1990, a scriptwriter on the other side of the world got bored and began concocting a footwear-themed plot, that was transmitted on UK TV in December 1991, a year after it screened in Australia, making it out-of-date straight away. The May 1990 ‘Sneakers or Your Life’ story from ‘Sports Illustrated’ indicated a Stateside spate of shoe crimes, but, as proof of the epidemic nature of both crime and fashion, it reached sleepy Erinsborough too. Commencing with the show’s resident moody teen, Todd Landers (played by Kristian Schmid who I last saw leading a party on Sydney Harbour Bridge as an instructor, but has apparently had a TV comeback), flossing with his new shoes at Daphne’s to impress the girls and crowing on about their $190 price tag, despite them being a pair of Hi-Tec monstrosities that would barely sell for more than £30 UK pounds at the time to the unfortunates with parents who wouldn’t heed their warnings of playground mockery.

In Erinsborough, basketball boots are called ‘runners” just as we Brits call any form of sports footwear a “trainer” and a bruised and battered Todd has to explain to Helen and Jim that he was robbed for his kicks by local goons and that he’s practising kung-fu in order to settle the score. You know you’re in the sticks when kids are robbing Hi-Tecs. A couple of episodes later, he and his buddy Josh attempt an entrapment and retaliation by borrowing Paul Robinson’s adidas Torsions (they look like Bank Shots — Stefan Dennis, the actor who played Paul rocked an assortment of expensive late 1980’s adidas during his brief, terrible singing career, including the astronomically costly ‘Best of Times’ leather jacket) that are a couple of sizes too big and using Josh as bully bait. As Todd and Josh approach a young thug on a BMX who, with his snapback perched atop his hair instead of over it, earrings and rucksack is a proto Streetwear Dave, he’s flanked by some goons who offer the threat, “I’ll give you a choice. Either I punch your head in, or you give me your treads.” Vicked. Josh loses a loose shoe during the scuffle, much to the fury of Paul, who purports to have paid $300 for those runners. It’s a deep plot indeed. There’s little more action after that, with the outcome serving as some kind of warning against shoe-related vigilantism.

This kid is rocking the Streetwear Dave look in late 1990

‘Grange Hill’ dropped some sports footwear knowledge during its 15th series in early 1992. For some reason, trainers were worked into pretty much the entire series, commencing with a young pupil amazing his fellow pupils so much with a pair of Jordan VIs, that they carry him into the class like a god and place him on the teacher’s desk to inspect their feet. For presumed legal reasons, the shoes are never referred to as Nike Jordans. Instead the kid crows about them being a brand called “Sportech” and that the shoes are $160 from the States and you can’t get them over here. He speaks enthusiastically of “roll bars” and “heel counters” on them but runs his mouth too much and gets them stolen from the changing rooms later that day. Loose lips sink ships bruv.

As a result, trainers are banned in Grange Hill, unless you’re a teacher, and a hapless character called Ray (played by an actor who I believe ended up DJing in my hometown for a while), wants to cop the same pair of shoes as the American temporary teacher who just started that term in an inexplicable bid to woo her by wearing women’s footwear. That leads to some outdoor sports store shots with Air Max 90s and Air Trainers in the mix, plus a couple of real brand names called out. Ray can’t afford any, so he’s inexplicably hoodwinked by a character called Maria, who goes into a sports shop and gawps at Reebok Twilight Zones before buying some sale stock from round the back and makes them into the worst custom shoes ever. I have little time for custom footwear, but these are especially bad. Somehow, via a sales pitch that they’re “exclusive” and “American” Ray buys them. Like a div. By the end of the series trainers are legalised in the Grange Hill halls again. Wasn’t this show about gritty real-life issues once upon a time?

Thank you YouTube for housing full episodes of the offending episodes too. Who sat and uploaded every ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours’? That’s commitment to the cause. Whether the current boom leaches into popular entertainment like that remains to be seen, but it’s worth mentioning that neither early 1990s plot was as excruciating as that AF1 storyline in ‘Entourage’ or a single second of ‘How to Make It In America’ but it harks back to a time when everybody beneath the age of 25 seemed to be utterly obsessed with footwear, not just the condensed band of weirdos you see today. I’m looking forward to a subplot in ‘Eastenders’ where one of the stage school newbies drafted in to play some kind of urban cartoon character sees pound signs over a box of fake Foamposites. Maybe those episodes will be as etched into the brain of the new generation of viewers as these episodes stuck with me, in all their heavy handed, poorly acted glory.

On a footwear note, the Honeyee piece ‘Good Shoes, Good Style’ showcases some good footwear, like Jun’s pair of Danner River Grippers. I wish every feature on that site had an English translation though — the Hiroshi and Kim Jones conversation looks particularly interesting, but the Flash nature of the pieces means I can’t even get my Babelfish on. Maybe I just need to learn Japanese.

COLLABORATING

Apologies for sports footwear related posts two blogs running. This was supposed to be a sanctuary from that subject matter, and if George Costanza’s “Worlds Colliding” theory is to be believed, this could end in me getting upset, but it’s been one of those weeks thus far. So you get sneaker talk here as well as elsewhere. I’m very fond of athletic footwear. I’m not remotely athletic, but I’ve always favoured the shoes — I’m not talking the sensible suede and gum soled training favourites that characters a generation above me lose their minds over, but the silly post-1985 techy stuff. The oddities and the commercial disasters are extremely relevant to my interests.

I don’t consider myself a “sneakerhead” — I loathe the term even though I’ve been known to use it in meetings, presentations and mumbling video interviews — simply because I associate that expression with lazy journalism from folk acting as if they’re hardened hacks looking for a major press award on missions to cover this new phenomenon, opening with creaky-old Imelda Marcos references in their witty lead paragraph under the misapprehension that they’re Martin Amis when in reality they’re simply exhaling seventh-hand smoke. I also associate the term with t-shirts that make reference to “Kicks,” irritatingly positive god bothering individuals, caps at funny angles and a serious yet curiously un-scholarly approach to the topic despite the po-faces. How can you sit poker faced while talking about a shoe on a webcam? Sneakers are a stupid subject so it’s worth getting playful with it all. Fuck a blog dawg — I’m fascinated by an SMU/Custom Nike Air Ship being the real banned Michael Jordan shoe, contrary to history rewrites making it a Jordan I. Sneaker conspiracies.

So it’s good to get an outlet from the good folk at Complex (Russ, Joe, Nick and the crew understand that sports footwear can be fun too) to go too far and really geek out. This time it was ‘The Top 50 Sneaker Collaborations of All Time’ (well, my top 50 — I can’t speak for everyone else) and I deliberately minimised any buddy-buddy footwear Illuminati inclusions between friends who design shoes, anything I’ve worked on, as few Dunks as possible (that story’s been told a million times), well-regarded collaborations that just copied prior ones or whatever didn’t age well. But it’s clear that collaborations had a golden age between 2000 and 2005. Much of what happened over the subsequent six years is just pumping and squirting lovelessly, going through the motions. It just got dull. So what I included is plenty of interesting and offbeat pieces that weren’t just lame retailer rollouts.

Fuck comment section democracy and calls for feedback — I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of that rundown. But I’m sad that in the list whittling process, the following shoes were excised: Parra AM1, SNS Goatskin Suedes, fragment Footscapes, Geoff McFetridge Vandals, Simpsons x Vans collection, Crooked’s Confederacy of Villainy collection, Ben Drury AM1, KR Air Force 1s, Sophnet Internationalists, IRAK Torsion EQTs, Futura FLOMs, DPMHI Terminator Hyperstrikes, United Arrows NB 997.5s, Packer Fila FX100, Wet Look Dunks and plenty of Vans Syndicate releases.

Inevitably, Nike take the lion’s share of that top 50, owning the market in the dual-label concept’s heyday. It’s interesting studying what legendary individuals like Nike’s Footwear Marketing Manager and Global Footwear Director Drew Greer instigated between 1997 and 2001 that changed the course of sneakers and redefined the collaboration for the brand. From the City Attack NYC swoosh Air Force 1 regional releases in 1997 to the Wu Tang Dunk (check out this Complex feature on Wu Wear with Power talking about bringing another Wu Dunk out and a shot of a Wu Beach Polo beach homage) and in 1999 to the Alphanumeric Dunk Lo Pro B in 2001, Drew and his team wrote the blueprint from the decade that followed. It seemed fresh when they created their Easter egg hunts with minimal numbers. What was unique then rapidly became an industry norm. From that, sprung apathy. That’s why everyone’s in brogues nowadays. adidas’s Consortium concept and Nike’s Clerk pack remain equally aped too. Through those imitations, the collabortion was created.

Long before those synthesised markets were generated, adidas had come over here in a slow trickle of wheeler-dealers, connoisseurs, savvy shopkeepers and good old-fashioned thuggery. Most documentaries or films with ‘Casuals’ mentioned are liable to be unwatchable, “You saucy cahnt!” fests that are simply cash-in exploitation of idiots for idiots. Less casual, more blokes in shit reissue sportswear fabricating fight stories. But the ‘Casuals’ documentary looks interesting, with an appearance by shoe Jedi Mr. Gary Aspden. So I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt. Plus it involves a man who really, really likes Keglers. to the extent where he’s wielding a big framed picture of them.



Fast-forwarding to a world where we’re not solemnly looking at things from 1979 and 2002, Errolson Hugh’s DISÆRAN line with United Arrows now has a lookbook right here: disaeran.com/FW1112-slideshow/DSRN-FW1112.html — technical goose downs, apparel designed ergonomically, the humble marl grey fleece track pant redesigned, slim silhouettes, a font that looks Avant-Garde, space age surplus, and some old utilitarian favourites taken back to the monitor for fresh insights plus that underlying sense of stealth promises big things if Acronym and Stone Island’s new slew of Shadow isn’t enough for you. It’s probably safe to assume that it won’t come cheap, but UNDERCOVER and Uniqlo doesn’t arrive until next year, so dressing progressive on a budget could prove fruitless for the immediate future.