Just to complete a trilogy, and because I never mentioned it a week ago, there’s one other Air Max story that’s rarely discussed — the 2001 City Tour collection. Easily some of the greatest shoes of the time, I waited and waited for something similar to happen in the UK and it never did. Considering that 2001 was the transitional year from garage into grime, and the Air Max figured heavily (as showcased in my friend Grace Ladoja’s film that went live on YouTube on Friday, but seems to have been put on private right now), the City Tour line could have been big over here. But I never saw them go on sale — I just clocked them being discussed on NikeTalk as a Footaction exclusive.
The Air Max Tailwind series is notable for being named after the late 1978 shoe that debuted Nike Air and debuted as a slightly cheaper Air Max spinoff in 1992 called the Air Tailwind (though I was too smitten with the ST that year to even know this model existed) before the line seemed to restart in 1996 with the Air Max Tailwind, as worn by Biggie Smalls (I sometimes feel that this was a better shoe than the Air Max 96, even of it lacked the forefoot visibility), a dull looking II and III in 1997 and 1998 respectively, then the brilliant Air Max Tailwind IV in 1999, which was a takedown of the new TN technology from the Air Max Plus, with a similar sole. The IV is a well-loved shoe — so well-loved that it hit NIKEiD around 2008 and got reworked with Nike+ technology for real runners on its tenth anniversary. I never had much time for 2000’s fifth instalment because it looked too cheap. There was a 2001 Tailwind too, but it looked so much like the 2000 edition that I can barely tell the difference.
As per usual, I’m open to correction here, but I never quite knew what the Air Max City Tour shoe really was. I know it was a Tailwind, but it felt more like a derivation of the Tailwind IV created especially for this project — with its tiny forefoot Swoosh and appealing looks, it’s the last great Air Max before the 2009 dropped, almost a decade later. As I recall, each pair of City Tour Tailwinds was limited to the city whose map was screen printed on its upper. Nike had brought the “city attack” concept to AF1 in the mid 2000s and this seemed like an even cooler proposition. In March 2001, the New Yorks dropped, followed by the Chicago in April, Carolina and Detroit in May, Miami in June, Los Angeles in July and New Orleans in August. I’ve never seen a couple of those colourways, but thankfully Doyle Calvert, Flash developer for the Footaction site back then has saved a copy of the promo materials (sadly sans Miami, LA and New Orleans).
This was a time just before every shoe got an irritating nickname and people got excited by unremarkable releases — theme packs weren’t as ubiquitous (now, city themed versions of Air Max seem like an obvious part of a marketing plan) and the City Tour had me wanting to become a tourist too, but these things never made it overseas. It’s one of the best Air Max drops ever because it still maintains a little mystique. Imagine if there’d been a London borough City Tour collection? People would have lost their minds. Instead it was more TNs, 95s, a 90 resurgence and an onslaught of the dreaded LTD instead.
Being a Brit, the American college and high school sports star thing is perplexing. That’s not to say that an athlete at any school I went to wouldn’t get the girls, but PE teachers in charge weren’t being held aloft by excitable parents or being drenched by buckets of Lucozade being tipped over their heads post inter-school cross-country event. Beyond the eccentric televised nature of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, I’m not sure that too many would be rushing to Ladbrokes if the University of Bath played Loughborough, or that a coach for some ex-poly could be so deified that they could probably commit a hit and run in their university town with immunity. In America it’s different. They have scholarships, big stadiums, big pay packets for coaches. They have All-American trophies, which sound amazing, even though I don’t even know what they actually are. I always knew that Tinker Hatfield was an athlete in high school and university (every athletic shoe designer on Nike campus appears to be capable of running an ultra marathon before work), but I never realised exactly how highly he was regarded in his day. When he told us at a Nike Q&A in Paris that a lot of people assumed he was black, because of his speed and name, he alluded to a certain status in Oregon as a teenager, but a June 1971 Eugene Register-Guard piece describes Hatfield Jr. as, “…perhaps the finest all-round track athlete produced in Oregon…” Tinker was taking four golds in track meets and, by all accounts, was no slouch in football either. The amount of sport section headlines on him during his high school days alone — pre University of Oregon — is impressive. Long before people were looking up to him for his shoe design savvy (something that has been rolled out on a grander scale than say, 12 years ago, when a core band of nerds would start banging on about Jordan XIs and Safaris at the mention of the year, his name was being mentioned in revered tones.
All this, and he designed the Huarache too. Tinker Hatfield is quite the overachiever.
With all the current Air Max talk, it’s worth talking about the oddities that are kept out of the celebratory storytelling time and time again. The Nike Air Max line was far broader than simply revolving around six or so silhouettes and some of the less-popular instalments and spinoffs are some of the maddest Nike design of the last decade and a half. While we were losing our minds over small swooshes on Air Max 1s and obsessing over 1985 basketball designs, Nike’s performance divisions got really really strange post-2000, building on the madness of the Alpha Project initiative.
As a result, some truly bizarre Air Max models that have never been seen since their debuts made brief appearances that have never been looked at with any real fondness. Much of it is ugly-looking on first glance, but these these things look like concept models rather than anything even mildly commercial. As far as I’m concerned, that’s something admirable. In an era of “WTF LOL” social media feedback and Emojis weeping with laughter, there’s a conservatism at work and if a shoe does’t sell out within six minutes, it’s a flop. The odds are against freakish footwear unless it has a high-end co-sign.
2002 was a strange year for shoes. Nobody talks about Tube Air any more. They pretend it never even happened, but it was at the heart of one of 2001’s Air Max and the Air Max 2002. It’s like the eccentric uncle that nobody wants at the family gathering because he’s going to get slaughtered and start morris dancing or playing a ukulele. While 2001’s main instalment in the series is considered to be a strange deconstructed oddity with only half the lacing that was just one of two flagships that year — an agreeably ambitious Air Max with Tube Air at the rear and a more conventional forefoot Visible Air unit, plus horizontal and vertical embossed on the upper, (the MAX on the toe was a bad move) that superseded it later that year can be considered an Air Max 2001 too. That model was accompanied by other weird models like the Air Max Tremble which was officially part of the Presto range. The Air Max 2002 expanded the Tube Air to minimise the standard forefoot visibility and had a mono-fit tongue/collar combo — barely anyone talks about it, at all. You might recall fleeting glimpses on the unpleasant C-Phaze and not-so-bad P-Phaze basketball designs around the same time.
Even stranger was the Air Max Dolce — at the start of 2002, this was the flagship Air Max of the moment and it was a laceless creation that looked like performance Hush Puppies with its tech-loafer look. Ambitious and peculiar, it’s odd, but managed to spawn the Air Max Dolce Light the following year that looked a little less troubling. In fact, the loafer concept was on several models of the era — the zip-up Fantaposite Max, Air Trainerposite Max (to a lesser extent), Air Max Specter and Air Max Amplify.
While for many, the 1998 Air Max Plus aka TN is one of the finest Air Max models ever (I concur), it’s easy to forget that the Air Max Plus spawned a series. The Air Max Plus 4 was truly unappealing and blocky, but the Air Max Plus 5, that carried a technology that looked like the flop Tube Air but was actually a TN unit is another bold entry that’s hardly attractive, but at least it’s agreeably unconventional compared to its predecessor, with that sock-like Turbulence-esque forefoot. That early 2003 release got plenty of shine when it was 50 Cent’s workout in lab conditions shoe of choice in the In da Club video that ran on every key music video channel almost permanently for a couple of months that year.
I’ve long assumed that Shox became a focal point for cushioning over Air Max in the early 2000s, and when the boing had been brought back to earth, Nike stripped things down and dropped the comparatively dull Air Max 2003 (an air unit from six years prior, really?) and seemed to scrap a modification to that same unit in early samples of the 2004. The 360 jump started things again. I’m not surprised that these curiosities aren’t used in a marketing narrative. Time has been unkind to them and we weren’t too enamoured with them in the first place. They’re tough to shoehorn into a sense of evolution too, but if you strip away the preoccupation with design from the past from this point, these are a perfect time capsule for a time when shoe design seemed to go insane. But we need to unearth these things on the off-chance that a 2025 audience decides that they’re ready for robo slip-ons all over again.
Documents of what built London’s street culture (for want of a better term) seem to be dropping as if an embargo on nostalgia just got lifted. You can expect a couple of films on the city’s role in creating fashion cliques that dipped into hip-hop, skatewear and high fashion with Zelig-like ease (well, the magazine coverage made it look effortless) and a couple of books on related topics too. Another series of spots I read about in The Face time and time again were the Cuts hair salons (that name seemed to switch with each successive move) — Kensington-based until 1984’s Soho opening, where shifted three times, resulting in its current Dean Street location. Cuts founder James Lebon’s contribution to the culture is colossal (this obituary offers an overview of his achievements) from celebrity hairdresser status to early retirement from the scissors to get behind the camera and make films and music videos (trivia: if you watched Channel 4’s Passengers, then you definitely saw his work at some point). Now there’s film made of archive footage of Cuts’ history — which includes a heavy role in defining Buffalo style and creating the much imitated and maligned ‘Hoxton fin’ in the early 2000s — with the in-production Cuts the Movie documentary by Sarah Lewis. Taken from 18 years worth of film, and with access to Mark Lebon’s archive, it should show the changing face of Soho (which managed to alter significantly in the few short years I worked there) and, with Crossrail’s Godzilla steps, seems to be rapidly changing for the worse. In Cuts the Movie’s late 1990s footage, it’s pretty much a different world (bar the invincible Bar Italia). I can’t wait to see this one and the obligatory crowdfunding appeal (this time using London’s Phundee) kicking off in mid-April.
I horde books on sports footwear for both work and my personal curiosity. Some are good. Most are wasted opportunities. Largely it’s down to the writer not knowing anything about the subject matter and covering what a cursory Google search would yield, or a lack of any cultural context and academic approach. As somebody whose vision of brands and their output is completely clouded by years of obsession, I’d love to read something that really told the history of the performance shoe from the beginning to the billion pound industry we see today. I’d go nuts for a 128 page book on the history of designer brands and their forays into sportswear to be honest. I know I’ll end up grabbing Out of the Box: the Rise of Sneaker Culture, which releases via Rizzoli this July for completists sake, but I’m expecting something a little better than the same old same, because shoes have been shot from Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum (where the original Out of the Box exhibition ran from April 2013 until June last year), the objects on display date back to the 1800s and it promises some all-important (provided you didn’t sign up to look at the same set of Jordans and Yeezys that everyone owns). As the writer of the best book on this topic ever, Bobbito Garcia knows and Elizabeth Semmelhack knows about footwear to a scholarly degree. As obnoxious as the cover is, it seems like a fair reflection of the horrible state of things right now.
You may have noticed a predilection towards rap magazines here before, and finding a stack of 20-year old publications a few weeks back I thought I’d lost had me feeling a little nostalgic for the days when WH Smiths had at least a few homegrown publications of worth on the shelf. Mainly because, with my Medusa touch, I managed to make every single UK rap magazine I’ve ever written for fold within a few months of publishing my work. Hip-hop magazines are a hard sell when you can log on and get something more up to date or catch something long form on Unkut or Complex.com, but there’s room for something created with care that captures the current state of the industry. Those with a long memory will recall an underrated British ‘zine called The Downlow that ran for four or so years (1992-1996) with an over designed, occasionally unintelligible layout with a ton of electronic typefaces that recalled David Carson’s work on Ray Gun around the same time or Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft’s FUSE. It favoured words over pictures. 1992’s BLAG (which is, admirably, still standing) and 1995’s shortly-lived True (which switched to Trace after True folded) united hip-hop culture with style well, bringing some spirit seen in America’s Vibe and The Fader. I’m interested to see BRICK, a new British hip-hop publication, in the flesh — especially after enjoying the second issue of another London-based project, Viper. Founded and creatively directed by photographer Hayley Louisa Brown, designed by POST — and edited by RWD’s Grant Brydon, the careful approach to the all important look — complete with custom typefaces — is both evocative of the more sincere locally created mags of old and hip-hop’s current aesthetic (despite, bar honourable exceptions, a dip in the quality of album cover art during the last decade). Neil Bedford’s shots of Supreme-hating, Cobain swag jacking stoner Wiz Khalifa for one of BRICK’s cover stories made the Daily Mail (we’ve come a long way since that Snoop “KICK THIS EVIL BASTARD OUT” Daily Star cover) and hopefully that attention will turn into sales. Shouts to the team for making it happen. Go check out this fine It’s Nice That feature on the making of issue #1 and visit the official site here.
On the subject of rap and typography, the Heated Words crew are studiously examining the history and legacy of the mysterious but influential b-boy font seen on Dynamic Rockers, RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ, Mick Jones, Biz Markie, Malcolm McLaren and Joe Strummer that defined 1982-era hip-hop style. Supreme have used a replica of this classic heat pressed typeface several times and Alex Olsen’s Bianca Chandon recently homaged a Paradise Garage tee with it on from back in the day. It’s integral to UK street style too — imported by intrepid tourists who hit up the Albee Square Mall to get a custom creation and the Heated Words: Initial Research exhibition to set off the project opens on the 27th of this month for a couple of weeks at London’s House of Vans. Videos, photographs by Martha Cooper, Mike Laye, Michael Markos and several others, old ads and some of the clothing in question. If you like some of the nonsense I link to here, you’re liable to really enjoy this one.
While we’re talking old magazines and Neville Brody, this Gilded Words piece is great: Jamie Morgan talking about a contact sheet from a classic Buffalo shoot for with Felix Howard for the March 1985 issue of The Face and the moment when every person started calling themselves a stylist.
The older generation of British skaters talking about a scene long before we had the technology for Sidewalk forums where people get angry about the price of Palace hoodies is something that interests me a great deal. This country has exported a lot to the skate industry and R.A.D. magazine (which spawned Phat — another publication that gets a lot of name checks here) was our Thrasher for half a decade. If you haven’t seen Rollin’ Through the Decades, it’s worth making the time for that documentary as a primer, and Theme Heritage’s Read and Destroy: the History & Relevance of the UK’s Legendary Skate Magazine panel is guaranteed to be an informational overload, with magazine’s editor Tim Leighton-Boyce, its former product placement consultant Vernon Adams, a frequent photographic contributor in the shape of Dobie (who really deserves a position as one of the best UK music producers ever too) and Rollin’… director Winstan Whitter all in attendance. I don’t buy into any idea that you need to know about Will Bankhead’s skate career, Ged Wells’ Insane imprint, Holmes’ early 1990s output or Tonite to enjoy wearing a Tri-Ferg logo, just as you shouldn’t be expected to know the 1982/83 76ers roster to appreciate a pair of Air Force 1s. But personally, I find the lineage fascinating — I certainly never expected Wurzel and the Death Box crew to be the start of something far bigger with Real. During its short lifespan, R.A.D. influenced legions and it’s good to see it given the treatment it deserves (thanks to Leighton-Boyce’s technical savvy, with his enthusiasm for the internet going back to a time when the idea of chatting via “electronic letter” seemed improbable, the magazine has long been available in chunks online via the excellent When We Was Rad site). It’s almost charming that the hot pink on this flyer is pretty much unreadable, but Read and Destroy… takes place at The Proud Archivist on 2-10 Hertford Road in north London from 7-11pm on Wednesday March 25th and costs eight quid to attend.
Every time I’m looking for good quality imagery of golden era (2001-2005) grime style, it becomes clear that Ewen Spencer and RWD’s Simon Wheatly were some of the few photographers who took the scene seriously enough to document it. I reckon the majority were scared that they’d get taxed for their camera and Nokia 7600. That, plus a sense that early 2000s sportswear and oversized streetwear would never be something to get nostalgic about — especially with the “chav” tag being hurled around, and a tabloid-fuelled folk panic when it came to hooded sweatshirts at a point where people were in fear of getting slapped in public and recorded on a grainy phone video, with their ordeal shared on playgrounds across the country. It seems like yesterday, which is why I’ve always been perplexed that there isn’t an abundance of imagery online. Grime’s boom time preempts online’s total reign over print and it exploded and dipped before the iPhone era. Now grime is a big deal again (So Solid deserve a lot of retrospective respect for paving a way — last year, a North Face store I visited a few times in Tokyo seemed to be ahead of the curve, with Asher D, Romeo and company inexplicably on full blast), with those who never fully shook off their roots ready to make some coin. Fortunately, those who took the shots are getting their due alongside the cast of characters who called the shots. Ewen Spencer’s Open Mic is a great book and it’s 10 years old this year, so he printed 500 copies of a follow-up to celebrate that anniversary. Expanding interviews (the insight from Lord of the Mics’ Ratty is always welcome) from last year’s Channel 4 documentary in association with Dazed, there’s some bonus photos in there too. Go get Open Mic Vol.2 from right here and swot up so you can say you were into it from day when Kanye drops that inevitable BBK connected track.
Regardless of whether you have the slightest interest in genre moviemaking, you’ve ever worked on a project and seen it go to hell on so many levels that you just want to wander off into the wilderness to sulk, you’ll be able to identify with director Richard Stanley (I’m guessing that you might have seen Hardware and/or Dust Devil if you found yourself here — if not, they’re well worth watching). Full disclosure — I’m a huge fan of John Frankenheimer’s work and I like the 1996 adaptation of the Island of Dr. Moreau a lot. I may be the only person to ever say that, but the sense of threat, the claustrophobia in that jungle set, the makeup and the brutal nature of it make it a gem as far as I’m concerned — David Thlewis is great in his lead role and Marlon Brando is particularly peculiar in this one (though it’s not quite Missouri Breaks levels of eccentricity). I watched it having read shitty reviews because of a colossal crush on Fairuza Balk that had me watching her flicks unconditionally, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Despite being the film’s one fan, I know that there was a better version planned under Stanley’s direction and tales abound over the decades regarding the chaos around the shoot — tropical storms, plus the perfect storm of double-trouble egos in casting both Brando and Val Kilmer.
In the troubled production documentary stakes, David Gregory’s Lost Soul: the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is up there with the superb Overnight, the uncut Wreckage and Rage: the Making of Alien3 and Heart of Darkness: a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (in one colossal coincidence, it transpires that Stanley’s grandfather is Sir Henry Morton Stanley — an explorer believed to be the inspiration for Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as reinterpreted by Brando in Apocalypse Now). Lost Souls also joins Jodorowsky’s Dune (as with …Dr. Moreau I love the resulting Lynch film, regardless of flop status) in the compelling explorations of the greatest films that never were. Worth watching for Graham Humphrey’s concept art alone, this film is sad, compelling viewing and an education on the way a studio like New Line was operating in the mid 1990s. It’s a shame that Thlewis’ name isn’t even mentioned (he wrote his own 60-page account of filming that I’ve been trying to hunt down for the last 8 years), there’s no Val Kilmer interview, and Frankenheimer passed away 13 years ago (had he been willing to talk about the experience, it would almost certainly have been quotable after quotable). Lost Soul is screening sporadically at the moment and it’s also available via VOD on Vimeo if you’re residing Stateside (or know how to make your browser think you are). Highly recommended.
Mr. Tom Scott put me onto this tremendous chat with William Gibson about clothes on Rawr Denim, wherein Gibson demonstrates an enviable knowledge of vintage and contemporary apparel, and reveals just how much of an ACRONYM fanboy he is. I liked the mention of “gray man” dressing to stay unseen — a survival and security term that represents the anti-flash polar opposite of peacocking for a mode of everyday camouflage. To be deliberately nondescript apparently requires a fair amount of thought, and isn’t just about chucking on a Superdry jacket and a top from Next.
I like this Bored of Southsea Stone Island-inspired graphic. I’ve heard a fair amount of gripes from associates regarding the love that Osti’s output is getting after the Supreme project, but hasn’t the brand always been aspirational? Do people shell out on expensive tech outerwear to wear it ironically? Still, most of the stuff I saw as a kid was very fake, and I was never an Armani Jeans kind of guy. Some skaters came up idolising Stoney, but I get the impression that a fair amount also experienced a fair amount of hassle from the kind of guys who donned the compass. Given Bored’s proximity to Pompey’s ground, it’s safe to say that the team have seen their fair share over the years.