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FRANK TANANA

November 23, 2014


You probably know who this actually is. Every now and again this guy makes an appearance in mock interview mode under his brother’s YouTube account — now he’s being confrontational with the mic while wearing a Winnipeg Jets shirt and a Yankees cap with ear warmers. Dropping jewels like, “My mum gave me the name Lil’ Pursesnatcher because I used to tap her purse all the time, you know what I mean?” Frank Tanana (sharing his name with the Detroit Tigers pitcher) is presenting his Skateboard TV segment and deflecting skater sincerity, mocking whiteboys who say they’re from Brownsville and acting a little intimidating at what looks like New York’s House of Vans. Half a decade after Norman Vename presented Brushstrokes, four years since he played Detective Ronald Hardtop and a couple of years after Shams de Baron gooned it out to break down the elements of hip-hop for that sporadically uploaded show and Dan Horan presented his current affairs segment Now and Dan, he’s back. Personally, I’d happily watch an hour of this sort of behaviour.

Apologies for the lack of updates here in the last couple of weeks — I’ve been busy with things I’ll tell you more about later.

SHOE CYCLES

November 17, 2014

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If anything’s going to make you feel old, it’s doddering around while a younger generation wears something you were obsessed with when you were even more youthful than them. When I was 12, I wanted an all-red pair of Nikes. All burgundy, navy or green suede Fila F13s had a moment (in fact, my friend Frank’s embroidered crest adidas Forums — which went over a lot of people’s heads — tapped into that era perfectly). We loved Travel Fox, Ewing and Champion shoes (word to Roberto Muller) in block coloured suedes and never feared mustard uppers — it was a pretty defining look between 1990 and 1991, because we still seemed locked into a world of black or white with neon accents. The only way to go further was to flood a shoe, but it seemed that a lot of British buyers didn’t want to take the risk, so most Nike offerings from that era, like the Ultra Force (above) in its 1991 incarnation or the ultra-elusive other Forces (bear in mind that this was an era when Neneh Cherry would sign and give away her Solo Flights on live TV one Saturday morning) in that all red makeup were strictly import only (shouts to Scat on Bedford High Street) for us young ‘ins to stare at before they seemed to vanish after the summer of 1991′s explosion of all things monotone (down to Vikings if you were tough enough). There’s little argument that Kanye’s Nike and Louis Vuitton work and endorsement of the Balenciaga Pleated Hi-Top and ‘Independence Day’ AM90 Hyperfuse has created the new market for red footwear, but for us old folks, it brings back memories of a look that aged well. All-red Nikes represent a time when I became aware of brands, prices and the power it commanded with my peers — it’s nice to see that the window-gazing might be done electronically nowadays, but the saga is definitely repeating itself.

6:25pm ON A MONDAY

November 14, 2014

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If my kids or grandchildren ever ask me what 1992 looked like, I’ll try to find them some footage from Dance Energy in whatever the format of choice is. There has been some great footage uploaded before, but shouts to Ian Powell for uploading some late 1992 episodes of the short-lived Dance Energy House Party dating back almost exactly 22 years — it had a Vas Blackwood-assisted comedy element back then and some of the music picks were just crap (just to dispel the revisionist depictions of this as some kind of flawless glory time), but there’s too many great moments to list right here. The brief boots in clubs trend segment with TLC, a Happy Mondays performance and the Essex dance music feature with Suburban Base had me having to have a sit down. Part of me finds a cathartic warmth from watching this kind of thing, but it also reminds me of my mortality when I realise just how long ago it was since I kicked back with some Turkey Drummers and Kia-Ora at 6:25pm on a Monday to see it the first time around.

FEDERER

November 10, 2014

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I interviewed Roger Federer about shoes (for another site) on the eve of the ATP World Tour Finals in London and the NikeLab launch of the Nike Zoom Vapor AJ3 mashup of two Tinker Hatfield designs. Remember when about five people seemed to know who Tinker was? Now he’s being name checked in campaigns by folks like Federer. I never expected to ever speak to this man, let alone talking to him about Jordan IIIs. This thing of ours has definitely leached into the mainstream and if it means meeting people as pleasant and charming as this guy (I can report that talk of Roger Federer being a class act doesn’t seem to be some kind of sponsor’s construct and I never interrupted him freaking out over room temperature or a brand of spring water — he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever interviewed), rather than some very surly people I’ve had to sit with who have a handful of minor hit records and not a single Grand Slam title to their name. Game, set and match to Federer over those fanboy dream shatterers.

Roger, how much wear testing and work went into creating this Jordan hybrid? I’ve seen projects that mix silhouettes before, but they’re generally for people who want to pose in them, rather than play in them. And when the white version of the Tour Vapor 9 Jordan III debuted, you were playing in front of thousands.

ROGER: Absolutely. With the outfits that we wear, it can be design rather than performance but with a shoe I think you can’t compromise. It has to work. The Vapor that I’ve been playing in was the base and then Jordan came in with its design — I still had to wear test a little bit. I had a covered shoe so it wouldn’t show anything, like the cars, you know? I’d go on a road trip and have the other players looking at me like, “What are you doing?” And I had to say, “It’s the shoe I’m going to be wearing in a few days!” I wore this new one for practise and I was always hoping that no pictures would get out, but it was quiet. So I know that this one works. The only difference I did have is that usually during the year I have a lot of mesh on the shoe, but during the clay court season I have leather on top too so the clay doesn’t go through to the socks. I really like playing in leather shoes and I like the look and feel of it, so from that standpoint I didn’t have to wear test a whole lot. It’s just important that the Vapor in general is a great shoe, which it has become though Tinker, who also designed the Jordan shoe. He knows both shoes well.

Tinker must know all about your feet from designing the Vapor 9.

He does know my feet and I have a custom-made mould. If you look at my feet, mine are a bit wider. So it’s very much there — he knows both of us, so it’s very cool that the three of us can do a collaboration.

The sheer wear and tear that tennis puts a shoe though is intense — especially when a game goes on for hours and hours. Is that tough to preempt?

Actually the way I move, I don’t rip through shoes so much — thankfully. But I know some guys who go through one pair of shoes a match almost, which I find very hard to comprehend. Players like Novak who slide tear through shoes — if you slide on the hard courts that really tears the shoe apart, but the way I move is quite smooth actually, so I usually go through two pairs per tournament, plus all the practises and all that. And still they look decent on the foot at the front and on the side they get a bit used. What’s important for me is that I feel that they’re agile and they’re quick and responsive, you know? I need to feel like I’m low to the ground and that I really do not twist my ankle — that is the biggest fear for a tennis player. I’ve only had that once and it was on a crazy court back in 2005. So if you think about it and how many hours I’ve spent on a court, I’ve actually been very lucky.

Does the parallel between you and Michael Jordan put a lot of extra pressure on you? You seemed excited to meet him in the Nike video from a few months back.

I was definitely happy to meet him. It was my hero next to me — it was a bit odd but I was trying to be cool with it! I was very excited when I was told I should wear it at the Open and in the first match and not only was I going to wear it, he was going to come and watch. So I was like, “Ohhh! Okay, don’t get injured!” I was actually cool about it until, like, the day of the match. I was playing night sessions so had a long time to think about it and the more the match approached I was telling myself, “I can’t lose this match!” So I went into it, like, “Whatever you do, don’t lose!” [Laughter.] I actually got very nervous that day and it was not a great feeling to have, but I was happy that Michael was at the match, the crowd was good and happy to see Michael and I’m glad that I did win in the shoe for the first time, but like you said, I did feel that pressure — I did feel something in the stadium and every time I was serving I saw this shoe like, “Whoa!” I ended up playing a second and third time in the shoe during the Open which was easier.

I get the impression that you’re very happy with the Zoom Vapor 9 design, it’s two years old now — do you find that being happy with a shoe is like being happy with a racket and does that make you resistant to big changes?

I’m more flexible than Pete Sampras was. I mean Pete Sampras didn’t want to change much equipment. You have to be careful though— we’re working on things right now. With the Jordan version, we had every Jordan ever made out and Tinker and Jordan Brand told me to choose the one I prefer the most — the one that makes you feel the best and play the best. I chose the III and they were very happy that I chose it. I didn’t know which one I liked better — black or white. White is more tennis.

Black is a fan favourite though.

I think so too. I didn’t expect the black one to come out later on. Then the Jordan group said, “How about black?” And that one’s cool too, but I was like, “Where and how?” So that’s where the idea came to wear it in the World Tour finals.

Were several different Jordan models shown to you on the Vapor platform?

No, they did it and showed it to me and said, “Do you like it?” And I did like it. I really let them do it, because the way they were going to do it would be something that I liked. Do you like a white or a grey tongue?

Grey is the best. The toe down view on the Jordan III is very visually appealing. You mentioned feeling good when you wear certain clothing or shoes — what you’ve worn has been a discussion point before. Jordan was a master of psychological warfare on the court — is your appearance part of your game plan?

It’s more for me — it’s for me rather than the opponent. The better you feel, the better you play. When I walked out in the suit at Wimbledon or in the Jordan shoe, those were iconic moments by tennis standards and they are big, you know? We’re very fortunate in tennis because I get to change my outfit around ten times a year and so I get a lot of changes because I work with Nike so closely with the design team, I always know what’s coming and I must say, it’s very cool being part of that process to look and feel good.

Growing up, there seemed to be a lot of tennis shoes worn as a fashion statement, like McEnroe’s Nike shoes. After Agassi and the Tech Challenges, your generation came through with a fast and powerful game — shoes had to be tougher and heavier so they couldn’t be worn so easily as a fashion statement…

Yeah, they had to become tougher. Agassi’s generation really started that with shoes becoming more bulky. I remember that.

When you were working on the Zoom Vapor 9, did you have a vision that maybe people could wear that one beyond the court too?

That was the idea with the Vapor, because the way that we can design the Vapor together with Tinker and the looks definitely gives it street-wear potential. And with the Jordan thing we’re going into it with the references to hi-tops and basketball shoes that are very, very fashionable right now. I think the black one is something I’ll wear on the street. White is a colour that really seems to be becoming stronger on shoes, but black is more toned down. On the court I might be wearing white, but away from the court I like something darker — it’s not so visible. It definitely has that potential.

STYLE BROKERS

November 5, 2014

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The Duffer project that caused a nostalgia wave at the close of 2013 with a Kickstarter campaign has finally emerged. Screened recently for some folks who were there, the feedback was good and ‘Style Brokers‘ is on Vimeo right now — uniting Barrie Sharpe, Marco Cairns and Eddie Prendergast, it does a good job of telling several stories in that sub ten-minute running time. The world that Duffer helped create is big business, so it’s important that pioneers aren’t lost in a scrum of chancers. This and Alex Turnbull’s ‘Rise of the Streets‘ documentary (currently in production) give some folks whose contributions are hard to sum up in single paragraphs in these “cool story bro” days of low attentions, the opportunity to speak. Duffer was an inspiration for Union and Union inspired…well, you can check Hypebeast right now for the last hour’s feed of apparel and footwear whose lineage is traceable back to what Duffer did. London is the city right now, but it’s always worth noting that it was always a city that created trends. That Duffer DUCCI tee is still a classic too. Salutes to Stroma Cairns and the team: you can watch the film right here.

GERMANIC

November 2, 2014

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The Manchester exhibition has finished now (but it’s heading to Paris), but the SPEZIAL project gave me a welcome excuse to chat with Gary Aspden — a man who bleeds adidas blue — on record, because I always fail to document our discussions. It was heartening to see the project succeed, because it’s a perfect case study in distilling a brand’s appeal and giving the diehards what they want rather than shape shifting the offerings to cater to a fickle customer. This interview ran on 032c.com (an appropriately Germanic outpost) a few days ago. Alongside the unveiling of the unreleased John Carpenter soundtrack compilation (complete with an excellent-looking website) and the trailer for the Music Nation Open Mic documentary by Ewen Spencer (based on his adidas-affiliated book), plenty of labours of love seem to be coming to life. It’s a good time to be a nerd.

Was the trip to a store in Argentina in the film more than just a video opportunity?

GARY: I was just beginning the look for the second season of SPEZIAL when we went to Argentina. Now I buy vintage pieces and archive them — there’s pieces I’m sitting on now that might not make an appearance for another four seasons — and I don’t know how long SPEZIAL’s going to run for either because the decision isn’t in my hands — but what Argentina was about was amassing products for research purposes, but also for finding interesting footwear to enhance what we were doing with SPEZIAL Manchester. What it does is enhance context — it helps to communicate the philosophy of the collection. It says a lot about the person curating the collection because, let’s face it, for anyone that’s a hardcore adidas fanatic, that trip is something we dream about. It shows that the collection has genuine roots, speaks for our mindset and if you’re going to say something’s archive-inspired, show me how you got from A to B. I wanna know! I don’t like to see stories attached to products unless they’re authentic. It starts and ends with product. The marketing stuff is the icing on the cake — the magic dust — but if the product isn’t fundamentally right, it’s unnecessary.

adidas was still broken into some rogue regional licenses until relatively recently — was Argentina the the last adidas license holder?

I think it was either Argentina or South Korea. Japan’s license ended in 1998. In Argentina the license holder held on to the death and when adidas started its three divisional structure in 2001, they needed to clear up adidas Originals. In 1999, when I started, there was no trefoil clothing available over here. They’d rinsed it out in the mid 1990s with Britpop so they just weren’t doing it at all, but they were doing it in America for some reason. So I was doing swaps. I’d go to adidas global marketing meetings looking out for people from licensee countries so I’d send them something signed by a band and they might send me a box of adidas New York made under license for Argentina.There was no system internally and you couldn’t order from the licensed countries so I used to do this bartering and trading.

Now you can buy the same thing everywhere. Those differences had a certain charm.

There weren’t global brands then like you see now. You don’t see so much branded clothing on people in the 1960s and 1970s. adidas was an early global brand, so licensees was probably a good way of getting out there. Then the money men realised that it wasn’t that cost-effective, so they wanted to centralise. I’m sure money men would see me as a hopeless romantic. There’s a generation who think that 1980s adidas was the ultimate sportswear — you had the ZX series, the city series…in adidas’s history it’s seen as a difficult time for the company. Karl-Heinz Lang, who worked as a developer for Adi Dassler, used to roll his eyes when you mentioned the city series. He worked on the development of the Marathon TR in the late 1970s and those city series shoes were just done to make money for licensees. adidas’s commitment to performance was way ahead of those gum-soled city shoes.Things like the adidas Waterproof and Zelda were pushing the envelope.

The rest of the interview is OVER HERE.

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MO’WAX FOOTWEAR

October 29, 2014

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I’m such a company man. Actually, I’ve got love for Mo’Wax, Matt Sleep and Jack Purcells, plus I wrote the press release for this project. So the anti copy-paste law is OVERRULED. I got a good Q&A out of this too, which may or may not end up on this blog. I’ve been after those stingray mids since I saw a pair on Acyde’s Instagram. As friend and family projects go, the detail on this one is crazy.

“From its debut in 1992, the London-based Mo’Wax organisation was the pioneering meeting point for an array of subcultures to merge organically – multiple musical styles met art, with painstaking attention-to-detail when it came to design. Founder James Lavelle brought his obsessions behind the sonic side to the forefront with photography, sleeve art, toys, books, exhibitions, sought-after streetwear and a connection to the collectible all celebrating the hunt for the next thing.

Coinciding with this summer’s London-based Urban Archaeology exhibition and tie-in book, Lavelle and Converse created these appropriately limited edition sneakers based on the notion of taking a collage of influences and re-appropriating them like music samples. The Jack Purcell made sense as the base model, because it’s Lavelle’s personal choice, “The sneakers that I wear the most are Jack Purcells. So I was keen to be able to work with Converse in a contemporary way, representing me as a person right now.

“The detail was really, really important. Just new ways and new technologies and things that hadn’t necessarily been done before – the idea was to create something that had the Mo’Wax feel. I really wanted to create a sneaker that would stand out in its own right but wasn’t gimmicky, or over the top and garish. It would fit in with where I am now and not necessarily where I was 15 years ago.”

The Converse Jack Purcell Mo’Wax Ox has a unique white debossed leather upper, while the mid-top version is embellished with premium stingray effect leather. Both re-workings of this staple masterpiece bring an appropriately obsessive level of detail to this silhouette, despite its apparent simplicity. Custom “Build & Destroy” logos on the familiar moulded rubber toecaps and classic Ben Drury/James Lavelle Mo’Wax camo screen-print graphics on a cotton base, with metallic gold logos, are used for the sockliners and heel stay.

For Lavelle, the end goal was subtlety, “How can we get the Mo’Wax design aesthetic into something really subtle? It was about keeping certain themes going, like having Mo’Wax on the sole of the feet or on the tips of the laces or on the insole or on the little heel strip on the back — there’s this sort of Mo’Wax touch. But the stingray was just to try and apply something that would hopefully look pretty cool.

A semi-transparent, ice blue version of the familiar smile and heel license plate, a semi-transparent ice blue outsole with the Mo’Wax logo cut between the left and right foot, and branding that even extends to the ice blue lace aglets all capture the spirit of the label. Naturally, packaging is paramount and the box design also channels that emphasis.

That boundary-blurring vision that brought skateboarding, artists, DJs, fashion and filmmakers into the same space is echoed in the Converse Jack Purcell’s ability to resonate with any style. Strictly for a chosen handful of Mo’Wax affiliates, this commemorative project adds to the mythology of the company that help define the way culture is curated and presented.”

(Speaking to James, I got to clear up the mystery of the Mo’Wax x Nike CD — with music by Richard File — from early 1997 too: given the nature of that project, no samples were allowed, which made it difficult — he conceded that it was a strange project and explained that it was one facilitated via an external agency).

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