A DUTCH DOCUMENTARY ON SPORTS FOOTWEAR

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The majority of documentaries on sports footwear are a bland retread of past glories with the same talking heads telling exactly the same stories. The world doesn’t need some guy in weirdly laced shoes asking people who’ve been queuing for 16 hours, “What is a sneakerhead?”, any more than it needs another Imelda Marcos reference in the opening of an article on collectors and resell. Dull. The much-hyped exhibition in NYC right now looks a little middle-of-the-road too, even if the first part of the book offers a useful primer on the history of athletic shoes Still, there’s a few slept-on productions with some rare footage out there, like Sneakers, a 2004 Dutch production that features Patta brothers and true shoe Jedis Tim and Edson (back when Tim had dreads), some super-dated “cool hunting” (which seemed to fascinate people back then), and some chats with Steve Van Doren, Tinker Hatfield and Nobukazu Kishi from Boon. Like much on the topic from this period, it’s dated, but in a nice way — like over-designed Flash streetwear and shoe websites from the same time frame that don’t work on Wayback Machine. Submarine did a decent job on this 50-minute film, so salutes to whichever kind soul took the time to subtitle this.









ROCKY

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Long before A$AP and adidas crossed paths, the connection between Rocky and the three-stripes helped pave the way for hip-hop history. After Nike endorsed Stallone in 1982’s Rocky III, adidas had made friends with the Italian Stallion in subsequent years , leading up to the fourth chapter. Before the strange bit where it claims that he discovered Run-D.M.C. breakdancing in the mid 1980s (probably not true — b-boying was never their forte and they’d put out an album by 1984), Barbara Smit’s Pitch Invasion is a great source of information on “Mr. adidas” himself Angelo Anastasio. the entertainment promotion man behind that pioneering footwear deal. Anastasio went from a mid 70s pro with New York Cosmos to the Ferrari-driver schmoozing around Hollywood. From Paulie’s robot (after Paulie went from violent woman beating drunk to loveable oaf in line with the franchise’s increased shine) to Vince DiCola’s War — a composition capable of getting a pacifist pumped enough to put their fists through a kebab shop window —it’s understandable that this heavy-handed red menace tale is a fan favourite (I’m a Clubber Lang man myself). I can’t help but think that the only thing more 1980s than Rocky IV, is the thought of Anastasio making power moves around 1985 on the streets of Los Angeles? The world needs a documentary on that pre-Yeezy heyday of entertainment marketing.

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SOME WORDS ELSEWHERE

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Nothing much to report here right now because I’m fed up of the MacBook screen after transcribing two and a half hours of conversation. But here’s a couple of things I wrote for some friends who sell stuff — a short piece on the Stüssy Tribe for MR PORTER (that 1990 CUTiE spread above stays gold) and a bit on the Converse One Star (one of my favourite shoes ever — there’s something a bit longer written for another outlet on the same subject too) for size? Two subjects dear to my heart that crossed over with each other too (as evidenced in the UK newspaper supplement that showcased a couple of pairs on Shawn’s fireplace back in 1993).

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RACK CITY

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Tumblr might be rife with anachronistic blends of 1990s and 1980s thrift store and eBay overspend styling, but there’s a few little spots where you can see some shots of those who were there with all the gear and some serious shoplifting skills. Having said that, is getting that throwback outfit historically correct even a thing any more? The internet has created its own timeless gang bang of reference points and music that makes historical correctness redundant. For a new generation, 1996’s iconography is as prevalent as what’s happening now. Factor in the sheer amount of homages to expensive technical outer wear and the reappropriation of rich guy garms of the 1990s and then has become fused with now like never before. Characters like Rack-Lo represent the old guard, and I never get tired of looking at the pictures from their past, as well as the different array of themed outfits you need to be up on if you rock the horse. His self-published The Lo Life Adventures of Rack-Lo book is online here and worth a browse.

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HIT AND RUN

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There’s plenty of little moments scattered across publications that altered the course my career would take in one way or another. Back in mid 1998, The Face ran a ‘Fashion Hype’ (and hype would become a word attached to these objects like a particularly excitable Siamese twin in the decade that followed) piece on the newly opened Hit and Run store (which would be renamed The Hideout for presumed legal reasons by 2000). This two page spread was a rundown of things I’d never seen in the UK and sure enough never seen them with a pound price next to them. I immediately rushed out and asked a couple of Nottingham skate stores if they’d be getting any Ape, Supreme, GoodEnough or Let It Ride gear in, only to be met with a blank stare. lesson learnt: Kopelman had the hookups that the other stores didn’t. This Upper James Street spot was selling APC jeans for 48 quid, while Supreme tees were only a fiver less than they are now. The 1998 season when Supreme put out their AJ1, Casio, Champion tee, Goodfellas script design and Patagonia-parody jacket was particularly appealing, and it was showcased here, while SSUR keyrings, BAPE camo luggage and soft furnishings were a hint of things to come. I guarantee that once you made it to the store, a lot of the stuff that you assumed you could grab with ease would be gone — an early life lesson that hype just isn’t fair.

EVEN RADDER

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I’m late to the party again, but I only just realised that two Read And Destroy tributes are on the market and both are excellent. After the RAD event a few months ago, there seemed to be a new wave of nostalgia for the legendary skate magazine (shouts to the team behind the recently launched Free Skateboard Magazine after Sidewalk’s recent demise — DIY efficiency in effect). Two shirts coincide and compliment that goodwill for the scene’s most iconic publication; Dear Skating is a love letter label that remakes the much-missed or impossible to find tees from a golden era of street skating, like Gonz’s Israel design from Video Days, with a vintage wash, and they’ve made an homage to the shirt that was advertised in the magazine that’s available now in stores like Flatspot and Native. if you’re looking for a tribute with a twist, Fergus Purcell and Sofia Maria’s male wing of the excellent Aries brand has created the RADER hybrid of RAD and Thrasher to take it one louder. It’s a fusion that works (was Skate Action the Transworld to RAD’s Thrasher, or is that bit of a reach?) and it unifies two of the greats. Slam Jam and Palace have got the Aries homage in stock. One of the forums created a DAD version for the skate fathers out there a few years back, but sadly, I couldn’t find a picture. Memories make for good gear.

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JERRY COHEN AT EBBETS TALKS SPORTSWEAR

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Note: I conducted this interview over three years ago and it was up on the sadly departed (at time of writing, anyway) POST/NEW site. Jerry is a fascinating person to talk to regarding sportswear and its history — personally, I love discovering that I know next to nothing about a subject, and in discussing uniforms and baseball caps, I realised how little I knew. I’m still a rookie.

Can sportswear have a soul? Now we’re wowed by innovation, but everything’s an improvement of an existing improvement. Like a calm corner in a market that’s over saturated though movements that immediately supersede what went before, shining fabrics, concealed seams and clinically rendered branding won’t be around in a decade’s time, let alone a century. Seattle’s Ebbets Field Flannels were resurrecting sports apparel in 1988 — long before “throwback” entered the conversation — and through obsession and licensing limitations, lost leagues got their uniforms back.

This site might be about the new, but some things can’t be bettered. Bringing a sporting obsession for trivia to an ever increasing crowd preoccupied with stitches, finishes and a garment’s history, there’s a lot of truth in Ebbets’ founder Jerry Cohen’s vision of a world where synthetic fabrics barely belong. Ebbets runs deeper than just one game, with some proto technologies in the fabrics and the best baseball cap shapes on the market. Created to order, it’s all one big glorious sporting research project to match Setsumasa Kobayashi’s multiple self-imposed assignments with General Design Co.

I read the Sports Illustrated feature from July 1990 about Ebbets that changed everything for the brand.

Jerry Cohen: Right — that was the first thing that anybody saw. I used to have the whole company in the dining room of my apartment when that came out.

You’d been going for two years when that came out, right? It seemed perfect for the Sports Illustrated audience. When Ebbets came out, it must have been like nothing else — from my recollections, fits were like these odd late 1980s “jock” fits and fabrics were synthetic.

JC: Baseball jerseys were polyester. They went to polyester in 1971. When they made that change — which was a massive change because before that, 8 decades was of wool and a baggy look that I consider classic. So when they changed, they threw out the baby with the bathwater because sporting goods companies didn’t think like fashion companies. They thought, “This is our market and our market now wants this and they don’t want that anymore” and not only did styles change, but they threw out machines — machines that I need now!

You use vintage machines for the hockey shirts, right?

JC: That’s the hardest thing. That’s a circular knit machine — there’s only a few of them and they’re in California. We’re completely at the mercy of this knitter and they’ll call us up one day and say, “Sorry — no more wool yarn.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

JC: Right. And I found myself in Bradford, England this week trying to buy vintage cotton backed satin that used to be run-of-the-mill in the US in the 1950s.

It’s like a fossil fuel. Back in 1990 when you were using vintage fabric, you must have been on borrowed time.

JC: At that time I was. Because we had a little bit of success we were able to go to the woolen mills and have them make that fabric again. But the problem was that the woolen mills started to go out of business. I mean, in the US there’s probably only two compared to when we started. We have to have a custom build and we have to buy — it’s funny because sometimes a customer will email and say, “I want to make a custom baseball jersey with a black pinstripe!” and I say, “Well, you can start by buying 1000 yards of black pinstripe fabric.

It makes my mind boggle that you build to order.

JC: Unfortunately we’re in the age of instant gratification and people assume — and I don’t blame them — that because they can order something from Amazon and get it in 3-4 days, a company like us, who offer over 450 wool baseball shirts, will have their shirt on the shelf in medium. The one thing we have to give up to do what we do is expediency or free shipping. We say it takes 6 weeks to get a baseball shirt and somebody might order on Wednesday and call us on Monday like, “I haven’t got my baseball shirt yet!

Do you think sportswear lost its soul? With flannel, it breathes, ages and works with the wearer.

JC: We claim timelessness and if someone buys a jacket from us which is from 1935, we want them to be able to take that jacket out in 10 years and enjoy it the same way. It’s not made to be disposed of. Sports graphics now is a giant industry with a planned obsolescence to rejuvenate sales that throws out the thing you bought.

It isn’t future proofed.

JC: That’s right. The way you designed something in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s was that a team needed uniforms and let’s get some graphics — “What have we got round the back?” There’s a serendipity and an elegance to it. That’s been lost. Even when they try to recapture that, they can’t because they’re on Adobe Illustrator.

I love the logos.

JC: We actually have the old catalogues with the fonts that were used. They were not type fonts that were purchasable. They were separate fonts that they had to punch out. Graphically they’re different to anything you’d find in a letterpress and even when we design a custom order we refer to those fonts. What people see in our product is that.

This feels like a research venture.

JC: That’s it for me. It’s the most important and pleasurable part of this — it’s the discovery.

It also seems that you keep a lot of teams alive. There must be former players for these teams with no idea that you’re making these things.

JC: There are. And that’s the fascinating thing for me — not the top level of the game but all of the dozens of hundreds of teams that small towns had. US professional baseball used to go down to a D league. You had AA, A, B, C and D and a small mining town might have a team.

Colours for teams like that must be very difficult. Going back to 1906, you must hit a point where there’s no photography.

JC: Or there’s photography but it’s all black and white. I’ll confess that in the early days I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes — there’s a certain amount of guesswork and it’s an art, not a science. We don’t have a machine that can take black and white photography and spit it out at the other end as colour. I wish that existed. I would read newspaper accounts and hope that the writer would refer to the colours. Very often you’ll see things on auction from a team, but you have to wonder — all those years earlier, was it the same?

Does wool lose its colour?

JC: That’s an interesting thing too. One story I like to tell is that when the National Hockey League were doing their so-called heritage program, they went to the Hockey Hall of Fame to do research and looked at the original hockey sweaters. Well, any team with green, they made an official spec of a mint green — a very light green — and years before I worked with them to do a collection and my Toronto St. Pats was a kelly green! They’d gone and looked at faded sweaters and based a Pantone colour on it. Dark blue wool fades to violet. The dye in the wool fades. There’s a lot of tricks you need to know.

Do you still use the same dyes?

JC: It’s close enough. But there are some things that are near enough impossible because those things don’t exist.

One thing that intrigued me was the baseball undershirts with a Merino and nylon mix. That was a proto technical fabric — now we get Dri-FIT and things like that, but this was back in the day.

JC: Yeah. It had an aerated cotton on the inside and a Merino wool on the outside. It was introduced in the ‘40s.

Between that and say, Ventile, a lot of ground was covered a long time ago in terms of performance and technical fabric.

JC: This thing about performance fabric being new is really a myth. In those days they did some stuff — they really worked on these things at a time when people assume they didn’t do anything.

The notion is of a quaint kind of dark age.

JC: Like, for example, even the wool they used for basketball or football was very, very fine — not a blanket fabric. They started blending synthetics after World War II. The wool we use for our baseball jerseys is not the 1910 wool really — it’s a 1950s one that’s lighter, it washes and is a better garment.

Then there was this switch in the ‘70s to a polyester.

JC: The myth is that wool was hotter to wear than polyester. If you’ve ever worn a polyester top on a hot day, it’s about as hot as it gets because it doesn’t breathe. The reason they changed was because of care for the garment — woven fabric would rip and I’ve got all these old jerseys with stitching on. It wasn’t as washable. They thought, “This polyester’s a miracle fabric — we can throw it in the wash and throw it in the dryer!” Owners loved that. It had nothing to do with comfort.

You haven’t done basketball yet. Any plans?

JC: Not yet. We’re gonna be doing some things.

You have the same 16 oz fabric for the hockey and football jerseys…

JC: Yes. That knit, which then changed to a Rayon with a cotton backing — which had a trade name of Durene — and that’s not so easy to find nowadays. It’s technically possible to make. But like I said, what’s not technically possible to make is fabric with stripes. People sometimes ask for say, a 1965 era football jersey, and it’s not possible to make it because the machines don’t exist.

How helpful has the internet been for research?

JC: I use it all the time, believe me! My eyes used to get tired spending hours and hours looking for one picture of a baseball cap at the right angle to see the lettering. I’d done that for years and years.

With the throwback thing, Starter and New Era got on it and so did Mitchell & Ness. Did you see any of that early ‘00s boom for throwback jerseys and hats? You seemed to be way ahead of the curve with the Negro League repros.

JC: We had a different consumer. In a way it hurt us — we were first. Some of the stuff was a direct knockoff of what we were doing. I would do my research pre-internet, but as soon as you publish that it’s open season. It’s difficult to police or enforce our creative ideas.

And if you’re reproducing it gets very complex legally.

JC: Exactly.

The hat side fascinates me.

JC: Originally they used horse hair which we can periodically get, so we use goat hair and then satin. (holding a hat up) This is an ugly hat in a lot of ways — it was for the Dublin Irish — that’s Dublin in Georgia. They had the name so they decided they’d be the Irish and the font is very blockish and not particularly elegant. That’s what I like about it though.

A good cap comes to life when someone’s in it.

JC: Absolutely.

We’re used to seeing a wool mix thing with a huge front panel.

JC: Yeah, like a helmet. We don’t do that. Sometimes people say to us, “I like your hats but can your crown like New Era?” and we say, “No, we won’t do that — go to New Era then.”

There’s a lot of variations on a hat.

JC: If you look at the Spalding books from the turn of the last century, there was always a page of the latest hat styles and they were named after cities, so there was a Boston style and a Philadelphia style and a Brooklyn style and a Chicago style. That denoted different bills, visor lengths and shapes.

Now that city difference is just a colour. Philly is a city with a real character too. It seems to have its own version of everything.

JC: And interestingly, Philadelphia used to be a manufacturing hub for this stuff — the sports clothing industry. They’re all gone now, but when I started, some of them were around. In fact, the man who owned one of the last factories died just a few days ago — he was a friend and real mentor to me.

Have a lot of the guys who impart knowledge passed away in recent years?

JC: Yeah. They die out — literally.

In terms of audience, there seems to be a new wave who want well-made goods.

JC: Yes, and that’s been good for us because before we were up against people who had things that were cheaper and their pursuit was more fashionable.

The prices of Ebbets are pretty reasonable though.

JC: We’re under a lot of pressure in our industry because the price of wool has gone way up. We had to raise the prices a little bit.

So your baseball collection runs until the 1970s, but why does football and hockey only run to the 1960s?

JC: Yeah, because again, they went to polyester around the same time.

And Ebbets Park closed in the late 1950s?

JC: Yeah, ’57.

Do you feel that was the end of an era?

JC: Yeah, because of the different fabrics and because of the elegance of a design.

As a business do you feel something was lost in the sports themselves then?

JC: Yes, I do. If you look at sport in 1975 or so there’s a distinct look.

It’s all very lurid and shiny — was that for TV cameras?

JC: Yeah, television became important and licensing became very important. That put pressure to “update” their looks all the time. That disposability didn’t seem to exist before 1960.

People really went to town on logos and mascots back then, but it seems more cynical now.

JC: Yep, there was a timelessness and that’s what we try to do.

Have you shown anybody these and reunited them with a flannel they wore?

JC: A fellow who wrote the book named Ball Four named Jim Bouton — which was the first expose from the player side to expose the game and took the hero-worship out — which I read when I was a kid. It was the first time I saw the f-word and found out players liked to chase women. He blew the lid off that. He played for the Yankees and he played for Amarillo in the minor leagues. I talked to him the other day and I sent him the cap he wore for the Amarillo Gold Sox he wore in 1961. He was thrilled and had no idea anybody would do that.

What’s the strangest request you’ve had?

JC: They want pants sometimes and we tell them that we’re not costumers. We have a fella that wants to dress like Babe Ruth and does talks so he had us making an entire Babe Ruth uniform.

How have fits changed? Flannels seemed to fit big.

JC: They are big. Ironically, the fashion thing is pushing us to do some slimmer fits. The market here and Japan prefers a narrower fit instead of a bulkier one. But Americans have become so much bigger.

Players seem a lot bigger now.

JC: That’s right. Also, a lot of the modern exercise machines they use make a difference. If you look at Mickey Mantle’s actual baseball uniform, he was the biggest home run hitter in baseball of all time, it’s like a men’s medium. They were ordinary looking guys.

I can’t imagine much nostalgia for the new skintight kind of shirt in certain sports. With regards to Major League Baseball spurning you because of licence costs back in the day, did that adversity help you?

JC: That adversity was really a godsend because it allowed us to tell stories than nobody had done. To this day, we’re still first, because of our research. They still deny us a licence to this day.

Would you like one?

JC: Only because people ask us for those teams and Mitchell & Ness, who hold the license, only make certain ones from certain eras. It’s not worth them making 300 of something and of course, Reebok owns them. If someone wants one 1935 Boston Braves shirt, there’s no place for them to get it. We don’t have the right to do it and we’ve contacted them about doing it for them, but as of yet they haven’t seen the wisdom in doing it.

Baseball seems so history and data driven…

JC: Unfortunately it’s driven by some other things too.

How about working with non-sports brands?

JC: We’ve done non-sports but it’s always on existing sports silhouettes — never on a new shape.

On the jackets, is there a difference between baseball jackets and the more commonplace varsity jacket?

JC: Absolutely. Nobody asks me that because they assume they’re the same. The big difference is length. Varsity jackets went up on the waist but baseball jackets went longer. They were meant to be worn to warm up in, so the shoulders were cut different too. They used to make them tailored and varsity jackets were more bulky — Wilson made the best ones and I have a few originals.

Was that in the 1950s?

JC: Yep, the 1950s. The Wilson jackets were beautiful, with a zipper or buttoned front and they just had a certain drape to them that was just gorgeous. That’s what we try to replicate. The wool isn’t as heavy. A varsity jacket used a Melton wool, but baseball jackets used an 18 or 19 oz wool rather than the 24 oz.

Are you looking to make reproduction fleecewear?

JC: It’s something we’re looking into.

It’s something that got bastardised.

JC: I know, that’s why we haven’t done it yet. There’s little that we can do that’s different. And we want to do vintage satin. But basketball and American soccer are other things we want to do.

When we talk about soccer in America, I think of that late ‘70s superstar era.

JC: I know, but we’re talking 1920s soccer when working men played in the shipyard and everything. For a brief period the professional level was very successful on the east side. Workers from England and Scotland would be lured to the yards in the US and of course they formed football clubs. They were successful and then they’d lure people to work with them, but really it was to play for the club. There was a league called the American Soccer League that was very successful — what killed it was the depression.

What were their shirts made from?

JC: Wool and cotton.

CastroMillers

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SHOEBUSINESS

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This blog seems to have become a place to loosely collate the variety of Nike one-offs made for showbiz purposes. Rod, Elton, Zappa, Devo, Jefferson Starship and the mysterious one that might have been made for Bob Marley have been discussed. So have the Friends, Home Improvement and Seinfeld crew editions. There’s still things that elude me — did Mike Love ever wear the Aloha? I heard he did, but couldn’t find imagery of them on his feet. I want to see the mysterious animal print Converse hi-top SMUs created for Dimebag Darrell too. It never ends. The appearance of an Eddie Van Halen one-off in an 8.5 on eBay the other week has got me assuming that there’s hundreds more oddities out there. It’s a bland looking shoe that’s barely even semi good-looking (to paraphrase Diamond Dave), but after Eddie tried to sue Nike for the SB tribute to his guitar a few years back, it probably isn’t going to get a reissue. These were a BIN at the $450 mark, but they went unsold.

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NEARLY 20 YEARS AGO

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What’s all the fussing and feuding for these days? I’ll never understand the people pretending that they emerged from the womb fully clued up, nodding sagely. Life is about discovery and evolving tastes. Got into something a year ago? Feel free to comment, regardless of what some old misanthrope who hopped on it five years prior tells you. Those who were really there at the start of anything, don’t sit and waste their time typing, blogging and dissecting them, unless they made a bad business decision and ended up on the outside. If something makes a few thousand kids YouTube Ninjaman or New Order, even if it’s just to get bragging rights over their online peers, then it can only be a good thing. then A brand like Supreme might not have been as widely discussed 20 years ago, but it was still fêted enough by the style press to warrant a page in The Face around Christmas 1995 — a magazine that was on the shelf of my local newsagent, with a then-circulation of around 113,000, back when mentioning anything in relation to Stüssy had us interested. Supreme was even on the shelf relatively locally at Dogfish in Cambridge for a bit earlier that year. It wasn’t necessarily a secret society then either — just a good brand, carefully distributed.

SPORTSWEAR



When you’re strapped for inspiration, YouTube is an easy way out for blog entries. Spending 30 minutes there puts you through multiple rabbit holes. Film trailers lead to documentary snippets that lead to lectures, before taking a sharp turn into timeworn VHS uploads of unsettling oddness. I always emerge enlightened but unsettled. Takedowns are so frequent that upping them here is destined to lead to black boxes and dead links, but having spotted the creepiest commercial I’ve ever seen, a manic Japanese commercial for the Goonies II NES game, the bloke from Limp Bizkit hosting a 1991 skate jam and a background reminder that Chicago team coloured Air Jordan 1s hit the sale racks with a vengeance in 1986 due to overproduction in the quest to find something I spotted a few weeks back and wanted to share here, I felt they all warranted a mention too. That video I was hunting was a 1989 commercial for Sports Fanatics, a store in Watertown, Massachusetts that specialised in sporting merchandise. This volume of team jerseys, sweats and hats deserved bars, and Sports Fanatics seemed to get the Saturday boy who owned an Eric B & Rakim tape in to spit half-arsed bars about replica hockey shirts long before Fabolous put out Throw Backs as a bonus track. Erie, Pennsylvania’s Play It Again Sports would try to play the goofy white rapper card five years later with Dr. Jimbo spitting about second-hand athletic equipment (with a Special Ed nod in there too), but it loses points for being too deliberately wacky.

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