Category Archives: Footwear

UPTOWNS

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I know that you might have seen the Air Force 1 documentary instalments from 2007 over and over again. All three parts clock in at around 19 minutes. But director and all round good guy Thibaut de Longeville was commissioned by Nike Sportswear to turn that work into something a lot longer in 2012. The resulting film, Air Force 1: Anatomy of an Urban Legend, was screened in NYC around the World Basketball Festival celebrations that summer and screened on OFIVE in France. It proved elusive since then online, but Fanagt on YouTube has uploaded it. At 75 minutes, there’s a lot more footage (and a couple of language barriers if you can’t speak French), plus a good narration from KRS-One. It’s more than just a repackage of the 2007 footage, though much of the footage seems to have been shot around 2006. Oddly, if you need more of the Baltimore story, there’s a bit more in the shorts (Cinderella Shoes’ owner has been excised here), but the animation on the 1984 releases — the daddy of the Quickstrike program — is a bit more specific in this production. Because this wasn’t handed out by Nike on promo DVDs, there’s an Azie Faison appearance and more explicit parallels drawn between drug dealer style and the popularity of the AF1. Sandy Bodecker (who has been heavily involved in numerous Nike projects that helped change the company’s direction — he was part of the AM1 project and was integral to making the brand a player in football and skateboarding) and the Up’s designer, Bruce Kilgore get in front of the camera too. Personally, I prefer the brevity of the original 2007 releases, because they remain some of the finest documentaries on the subject of shoes to date (unsurprising, because Thibaut and the 360 Creative team made Just For Kicks). I know there’s all kinds of shoe films in production right now, and many look unappealing, because they tread existing territory, film a few queues, single out some alleged influencers, then get a few dudes to open some boxes and bitch about resellers. Nobody’s telling stories, and W+K and Jordan Brand’s Sneakerheads and Just For Kicks are destined to be better until somebody actually makes an effort. There’s only a handful of trainers that justify a dedicated full-length film. This is 1 of them.

Edit: Annnnd it’s gone. Watch this 19 minute version instead and wait for a wider release some time soon.

RAEKWON HAS FOLDING SKILLS

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Streetwear loves Wu-Tang. Over the last decade there have been tributes of varying quality that rarely come close to what Oli “Power” Grant and the crew did do help redefine rap merch with Wu Wear—complete with no less than four physical stores—as much as they did the hip-hop record deal. Wu Wear was pretty much played by the time it hit Virgin Megastores to coincide with Wu-Tang Forever, but that I hold it in similar status to a slew of pioneering black-owned brands of the era rather than mere tie-in is a testament to the Wu brand’s clout. These are hyper referential times and every cultish nook and cranny of rap culture has been cleared out and beamed into a broader spectrum. C.R.E.A.M. branded dairy products or a Liquid Swords washing up liquid complete with the ‘W’ logo wouldn’t surprise me right now, and that 1992 snowboarding pullover that Rae rocked is being rinsed. It’s the reappropriation of memories of one of the greatest reappropriated style moments ever. It might be considered quite meta in one way or another. It’s well documented—and I’ve probably upped at least 10 Wu-centric posts here before—that, in their day, the Wu-Tang were style kings who rolled en masse before the dissent kicked in. They were innately fly. In a world where collaborations are an increasingly tiresome currency and many rappers dress in various levels of shitty (awkward in leather, Karmaloop gift voucher, or 1998 called—it wants its denim back), it’s something of a lost art.

King collector DJ Greg Street is a man who seems to own everything, and a week or so ago, he made the video above where he showed Raekwon an array of merchandise from over the years. It’s entertaining stuff, but two things stand out—Rae seems completely unaware that most of this gear ever existed, and the man can fold a tee like a pro. Does he have a retail background*, an obsessive compulsive approach to his gear, or is this a habit borne of constant touring? The man could be working in Supreme with this commitment to keeping a shirt in order.



*Big up Ross Turner for noting that it’s a packing fold rather than a retail fold.

WORDS ARE VERY UNNECESSARY

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I’m guessing that I’m not alone in buying stacks of Japanese language publications. They’re rarely cheap (unless you actually visit Japan, postage or the markup in UK stores can be brutal) and can, unless you stick to your favourite titles and their myriad spinoffs and specials, be a let down once they arrive. But generally, with a mood of all-pervading geekery and a single niche taking up the first chunk of pages, these men’s clothing bibles are a triumph of obsession, covering territory that few western editors would ever dare tread, unless they were looking to bruise their already sensitive circulation. Fortunately, the language of unfiltered nerdery is global and singular. I wait for my Amazon Japan delivery in the knowledge that I’m not going to be able to sit and absorb every word. In fact, I’m probably not going to find a single sentence in there that I can decipher. But I’ll get flawless photography, detail shots, a sense of history—because origin years of a garment will be included— and, as a bonus, there’ll be some excitable captions in English.

If you’re really into the same kind of things as many Japanese consumers—good coats, vintage clobber and things you didn’t know you needed, but are so aesthetically pleasing that they’re necessary—then you’ll always be happy with Lightning, 2nd (Lightning’s younger brother, geared at a younger crowd), Free & Easy, and the tens of other titles that appear each month. ibought magazine takes consumerism to its compelling conclusion with page after page of stuff people bought recently, while GO OUT is the place to see unexpectedly awesome things like big branded GORE-TEX New Eras and costly rucksacks. Sometimes, a cartel of magazine editors unite to create a Whole Earth Catalog style paean to expendable income book stuff called, appropriately, Stuff, with sequels like Stuff Returns. The notion of being able to wander to a 7-11 style store near your house and find a 200 plus page tribute to Americana that examines the minutiae of denim rivets seems otherworldly, yet in many Japanese cities, it’s a norm. Minimal advertising, vast distribution and king-like levels of content means that, to quote Dave Gahan, words are very unnecessary. Every now and again you get stung for 15 quid by buying something completely uninspiring, but you would have blown that on something grass-fed in a bun that didn’t deliver anyway.

The Japanese approach to over analysing and cataloguing sports footwear appeals to me, because it’s a lane of its own that isn’t a youthful preoccupation with six or so silhouettes, nor old man griping over the shape/price/materials/availability, or whatever this month’s moan is. Boon Extra editions from the mid to late 1990s are still my favourite books on the topic, even if the copy could be calling me a bellend for all I know. Japan’s age-old fanaticism for shoes is something that resonates with me. They were up into the high 990s and four digit masterpieces from New Balance before the inevitable slow crawl of hype made the alternative to the bullshit—shoes that are still masterpieces—into another item caught in the bot and queue crossfire. I still feel that some shoes, like the reissue of 1996’s 999 that you only ever seemed to see in Asia, and the MT580, should never have had a release in the western world. We’re not built to appreciate them like we should. We should be observing from afar and making the pilgrimage to bring them back for ourselves and friends with flattened boxes and a not-guilty walk when it comes to NOTHING TO DECLARE.

2nd’s New Balance Book is the third solid NB mook I’ve seen over the years, and while the text is Japanese again, there’s enough imagery of grey suede and nubuck running shoes, factory imagery and history (the 1995 M585 and original M580 from 1992 are useful to see) to make it a worthy pickup. Many will find something new in there and the know-it-all will pick it up anyway because they’re too far gone with this collector thing, and bask in the knowledge that they have the knowledge when it comes to this sprawling, occasionally illogical secret society of numbers on tongues. You’ll probably pay some extra loot to get it, but this is comprehensive enough, despite not trawling some of the rarer releases or delving deep beyond running — like all the other good Japanese publications, it’s best used in tandem with other far eastern records of archive excavation. You could use Google, but it’s so awash with crappy content for content’s sake, and depressingly devoid of all those great little Geocities fan pages, that pricey paper is still your best bet.

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THE CITY TOUR COLLECTION

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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 in London. The closest I ever got was seeing them being discussed on NikeTalk, because they were 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.

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*Kish made a good point about this: it’s a state and not a city. That might explain the added S on the heel.

TINKER

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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.

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THE OTHER AIR MAXES

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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.

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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.airmax2002

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.

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CUTS


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.

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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.