Category Archives: Sports

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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DOGS & THEIR OWNERS

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I’m late with the updates because I’ve exiled myself to NYC for a week as penance for running an online store into the ground. Actually, I’m here on a holiday. That means I’m not keeping my eyes open for product or any releases, but a few things caught my eye. Will Robson-Scott is one of my favourite photographers and filmmakers — he’s technically great, but he’s curious when it comes to exploring the harder side of life too — I think that fearlessness when it comes to his personal projects sets him apart from the rest. The In Dogs We Trust series was created in partnership with Ollie Grove and explores human relationships with our canine buddies (which is beautifully depicted in Will’s John and George), the age-old belief that they look like their owners. Shot across several cities — from London to LA – it’s being published by Victory Editions this March as an edition of 500. I’m hoping it’ll be kicking off with a gallery show of pooches and their human buddies. This is everything I want in a book and there’s more information here.

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The most amusing stories around signature shoes like the Air Jordan don’t come via the people who wore them and want to remind us, in tiresome fashion, how they saved/begged/skated a pair…whatever. Who cares? Every thirtysomething has a Jordan shoe story of one kind of another, even if they hated them. No. the best stuff comes from the behind-the-scenes hustles, and Sonny Vaccaro (who was meant to be played by James Gandolfini in an HBO film that never got produced) was at the heart of getting kids signed by any means necessary. The sports marketeer who pioneered a new breed of shoe promotions that made the canvas and rubber wheeler-dealing of old seem ultra-archaic is getting an ESPN 30 for 30 that’s full-length, but broken into online only chapters for a digital debut. Sole Man premieres on April 6th via Grantland and the Jordan Effect episode about the 1984 Nike deal promises, “…a Hollywood story that features secret phone calls, a six-figure check, a mansion in Oregon, and a plate of ribs at a Tony Roma’s restaurant in Santa Monica.”

Finding out the inside story of how LeBron ended up at Nike over adidas (beyond the monetary one-upmanship) should be interesting too. This talk at Duke from a few years back is a good Vaccaro primer before Sole Man screens.

FEDERER

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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.

BOOTS

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The World Cup is a perfect time for everyone to pretend they’re fanatical about football. I’m not going to feign fandom. I was a terrible player which makes me a weak spectator — I can’t fully appreciate the nuances of the game, because I have little comprehension of how to play it. I don’t think I’m alone there — a lot of projects are a bit Roger Nouveau Football Fan. Skate tie-ins can be even more awkward — there’s plenty of crossover, but skateboarding always seemed like a reaction against team sport twattery when I was a kid. But I also hear a lot of diehard fans complaining about the hordes suddenly taking an interest whenever there’s a global tournament, which is a strange argument — it’s not inconceivable that those who don’t make the effort every weekend might legitimately take an interest in a worldwide, heavily marketed tournament that determines a nation’s mood and pits the greatest players in the world against each other. You see a lot of people who own a CP Company coat and once saw a man push a man at a game banging on about tear-ups and crews too — fake hoolies seem to be worse than the biannual swarm of one-month fans. I’m mostly interested in football boots and characters like Edmundo, John Sitton or Ali Dia. As a result, it was kind of odd to get interviewed by designboom on a football-related subject, but here’s a chat with me about football boots — working on that project it was fascinating to see how Nike Football evolved from a boot made to help BRS split from Onitsuka in 1971 (because Onitsuka didn’t make football boots, Nike hastily got a boot with a Swoosh on it into the market to prove that they had a point-of-difference when it came to legal tussles) to Gordon Cowans Tippexing a Swoosh onto his PUMA King boots in 1982 to the Mercurial Vapor twenty years later.

COMMERCIALS



As an angry late teen, I loved Crass’ music — I still do — but I’m more than aware that my frequent flirtation with big brands is at odds with the group’s ideals. I’m content to be a sellout though. Before I became an apathetic thirtysomething (there’s plenty of room for a mid-life crisis where I start wearing a nose ring and start squatting after a year abroad) it was Crass who taught me the true meaning of anarchy (though, to be fair, Snufkin in The Moomins gave me a good grounding on its philosophies when I was a lot younger) and plenty of their music still holds up today, not least because it retains an intelligence and subversion (that romance magazine flexidisc stunt was ingenious) that’s still vital. Through all the aggressive imagery (via Gee Vaucher) and anger, Crass’ logo gave their work a legitimacy and Dave King’s snake-wrapped cross is a classic piece of band branding. Scott Campbell is a fan too, judging by his appearance here.

MOCA’s Art of Punk series has been superb — the Black Flag edition was incredible (the only band logo I would have — and do have — tattooed on me) and the Crass episode is equally superb. King’s decision to avoid elements touching to make it perfect stencil fodder was a masterful one. While I’d seen all Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag flyers, I’d never seen the retaliation art that Pettibon quietly unleashed in fury to parody Chuck Dukowski and Greg Ginn after his work was used (and dissected) on the Loose Nut album cover, leading to some legendarily bad blood between Raymond and Greg.

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Having spent part of my teenage years absorbing Iceberg Slim and Chester Hines’ novels and carrying on like that kid on the cover of Ice-T’s Home Invasion cover, I have a soft spot for Mr Slim’s work. Still, it’s curious to see the pimp portrayed as hero in popular culture `(that Don ‘Magic” Juan Emerica shoe was one of the most misjudged projects in years) given the strong-arm tactics and manipulation that Iceberg describes. I support the Seagal Out For Justice pimp-through-the-windscreen technique, but there’s still a certain mystique to the late 1960s and 1970s world of pimpdom (I blame Willie Hutch and Max Julien) and that curious regressive, showboating but squalid realm that the Hughes Brothers’ American Pimp explored. It’s easy to see how such ostentatious characters could fire a kid’s imagination when they saw them in their neighborhood.



Iceberg Slim did a solid job of depicting the trade as seedy, dangerous and vicious and I’m still fascinated by his tales of mentor Sweet Jones (R.I.P. Pimp C) who was apparently based on a character called Albert Bell who went by the name “Baby” Bell (no relation to the wax covered cheeses). Anyway, is glamorising pimpdom any worse than deifying the bullying, psychotic actions of mobsters who murdered their way into popular culture? Ice-T has produced the documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp about the man and the myth around him. That footage of his masked 1968 chatshow appearance (shouts to Blue Howard) is tremendous.

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With a Le Coq Sportif resurrection currently going down, it’s a good time to admire this reflective, hybrid vintage running top that recently sold at Diggermart. Like Cool V’s Le Coqs next to Biz’s Safaris on the Goin’ Off sleeve, it’s pretty damned hip-hop. On that topic, the 1988 commercial below (filmed from a TV on camera) for Baltimore’s Charley Rudo Sports showcases an array of Le Coq Sportif athletic pullovers as the new thing. You need to pay homage to Rudo’s sporting empire because alongside two other Baltimore sport shops they brought the Nike Air Force 1 back. Without them, that reign post-1983 may well have never happened.



While we’re talking about Le Coq Sportif and its old location, check out the commercial for Harput’s in its Oakland location circa 1988 after the Richmond location closed. Check the Fila selection but more importantly, anyone hitting the sale to grab the Nike Air Windrunners they showcased was in luck. Not only is the brown Escape edition there, but the even more fiendishly rare Escape Windrunner in lighter tones (weren’t the AM90 Escape II and the Escape Huarache based on those colours?). The SF location of Harput’s is still one of the greatest stores I ever visited.


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Zak’s in San Leandro deserves a shout for its Slacks, slacks and more slacks, selection of Lotto, the suede jacket guy, their Cazals and an array of Bocci silk shirts.

THE OTHER RALPH

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The closest I could come to anything relevant to this time of the year is these Ralph Steadman illustrations for Nike from 1982, 1984 and 1991. One features a rabbit (actually, maybe it’s a hare, but that’s still relevant to March), so it felt right. Was Nike UK’s decision to use his art to promote their involvement in the London Marathon back in the early 1980s one of the earliest uses of an artist like that on a campaign? I always thought that the 1991 Nike 180 commercials with Industrial Light & Magic, Guido Manuli, David Cronenberg, Caleb Deschanel and other equally offbeat partner picks, plus Ralph on the print ads (as well as French satirist and cartoonist André François, plus graphic design dons like Alfons Holtgreve, Charles S. Anderson and Takenobu Igarashi) were the first time Nike had gone wild with it like that, but it transpires that British running magazines were riddled with unorthodox ads that fitted the irreverent tone of the time for the brand.

The man responsible for Gonzo’s aesthetic evidently liked drawing Nikes a great deal, because, while I’d like to put my frequent Nike fixation down to hip-hop or sports, it’s actually down to the aura of the swoosh back when I was becoming aware of what was on my feet and the shoes on the cover of Ralph Steadman’s 1986 children’s book, That’s My Dad, which I spotted in the school library and lost my mind over. Back when trainers were misrepresented in comics and books, Ralph went in — there were closer looks at dad’s shoes inside as well. Presumably, the recent Nike commissions meant the artist/writer felt comfortable drawing their shoes when the time came to draw trainers. I think this book (which was aimed at an audience half my age back when I first spotted it) might be one of the key reasons I talk about nonsense like this now — 27 years later.

Steadman’s ability to wallow in the mainstream as well as the murkier subcultural waters during his career is always something worth celebrating, but his contribution to fueling my sports footwear preoccupation is something I hadn’t thought about properly until a recent flashback. I mean, Quentin Blake was another personal favourite of the time, but he wasn’t arming his paternal depictions with strong shoes like Ralph was.

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Cheers to Exposure, Protein and Nike for letting me write a foreword for the Air Max Reinvented publication to coincide with the weekend’s exhibition of Max reinterpretations. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Dave Swindells triptych of a tripping man in Infrared Air Max 90s who’s on one at RAGE at Heaven in its proto-jungle 1990 heyday. Here’s two of the three shots they selected. That’s a strong tracksuit going on there in the background. Dave’s website has a great selection of his work, which is as essential as a document of British style as it is as history of club culture. I think this shot from Soul II Soul at Brixton’s Fridge in 1989, with Air Max Lights, Torsions and Coca-Cola clothing is equally tough too. This is the part of Nike Air Max history that hasn’t been fully explored for the current campaign. Maybe it will be in months to come.

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Taken from Dave Swindells’ site.

Reading Nicky Haslam’s Redeeming Features, which namedrops like nothing I’ve ever read before, I noticed that, in his digression regarding the Countess of Kenmare, he trumps the niche nature of the Hermès apple holder, with talk of the Countess’ bespoke Louis Vuitton creations: “…giraffe-shaped cases in which to transport her baby giraffes, regardless of quarantine, to London for her seasonal sojourn at Claridge’s.” Please bear that one on mind next time you feel the urge to write #swag after a picture of your Goyard card holder.

All praises to Tokyo’s Oshman’s store for their work with Champion. It’s undisputedly odd to find yourself begging friends who are Japan-bound to pick up some replicas of American college team tees for you while you’re there, but the new collection of the almost sweatshirt weight thick cotton of the American-made T1011 tee with the binding process that makes it less prone to stretch (though, as a word of warning, they fit pretty boxy) with an official UCLA print, plus AFA and United States Naval Academy editions look great. They’re exclusive to Oshman’s by the look of things and there’s no bad egg in the whole bunch. Converting to around £33, they seem affordable, until you consider the £20+ shipping, £20 import tax and Parcelforce’s £10+ processing fee — the murderers of many a bargain. These arrive at Oshman’s in April and if anyone’s heading there and back with suitcase space, all assistance is appreciated. Theoretically, at this time of year, heavyweight fabrics shouldn’t be too much of a consideration, but because spring has forsaken us, I’m taking no precautions.

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