What do you know about tech penny loafers? Borne from a decision to launch a casual line of men’s footwear, the Nike Vagabond is a weird shoe — pure dad wear, this loafer was released in 1982. Part of a collection (shown here) that seemed to be a response to Freizeit styles from the Germans and was, according to lore, a decision made over targeting the aerobics explosion. Cambrelle lining, the Octo-Waffle spin on Bowerman’s traction patterning and, best of all, a full-length Nike-Air unit in the sole, this design and the Bedouin didn’t sell well. In fact, the Vagabond’s existence seems to have been forgotten completely. That’s a shame, because this model is so ugly that it’s actually memorable. I doubt that there will ever be a reissue of this obscurity. After Nike acquired Cole Haan in 1988 they flirted with some similar cushioning concepts — in fact, they put Tensile Air in their shoes — which included slip-ons — from 1990 (dropping the technology in 1992 to shift from rear and forefoot units to a full length version in 1993), half a decade before Tensile Air appeared in Nike products. Tensile Air would be renamed Zoom Air by 1996, making those earlier formal CH designs pretty pioneering. I always assumed that the delay in launching Zoom Air as an athletic technology was down to a focus on visible, bombastic forms of cushioning back in the early 1990s.
I generally don’t take product for paragraphs on this blog, but if anyone wants to send me books or magazines that are good it’ll save me some cash and I might up them here. I spend way too much money on reading matter and there’s some prospective greatness in the pipeline — Enjoy the Experience about private press vinyl covers drops on Record Store Day via Sinecure and it’s clearly necessary, with a limited edition version available on the publisher’s site. Earnest strangeness in its most irony-free form is the best kind of strange. Nina and Cieron’s What We Wore project is gathering true British style and error since the 1950s, with a book dropping next year that will be the antidote to simplified notions of sub-cultural style.
Everyone I ever see in iconic images of mods, rockers, teds, casuals and the rest seem to get it right — I want to see the sartorial misfires, tryhards and those who couldn’t afford the right stuff but had a go anyway. That’s what helped shift Spliffy garms — when you’re surrounded by style struggle, bad becomes good. Good books on sports footwear that aren’t Japanese language are thin on the ground — after the reprint of Bobbito’s Where’d You Get Those? at the end of the year, Slam Kicks: Basketball Sneakers That Changed the Game drops in February 2014, written by Slam’s Ben Osbourne and Scoop Jackson. I’ve wanted a sequel to Sole Provider for a while, so this could fill that bookshelf gap. In the meantime, go and pick up the Gonz issue of Huck, because pretty much everything in it is good.
I have no idea what the story behind these Cole Haan wingtips with Air Max 2013 technology is, but pebbled leather and speckles kind of works. Is this some response to the Prada Levitate’s AM97-esque look (Edit: Shouts to Todd Krevanchi for pointing out the resemblance between these and the Air Max Sentry which had the ’97-style unit on a sensible shoe design)? I assume they’re some internal experiment that’s destined to never release after the Cole Haan/Nike separation, but they’re avant-garde in their jarring trad-tech collision. These were spotted on Mr. Salehe Bembury’s blog with zero explanation as to how they came to be.
Speaking of big air (and I apologise for all the Air Max references in the last few blog entries — I was working on Air Max related Nike projects and became obsessed all over again), back when Lil’ Kim didn’t Vybz Kartel herself and wasn’t obliged to live up to the soft porn persona she created the following year, she made grape AM95s look incredible with Junior M.A.F.I.A.
Chaze from Grim Team doesn’t just produce extremely hard QB and Bronx hip-hop — he keeps to his French origins with some synth-led sounds. Grim Team isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty and Chaze’s This Was Your Town (featuring Casey Mecija) video is directed by Jay One and contrasts beauty with a heavily bombed Paris setting. Nobody does destruction like the French, down to the trucks — proof that there’s style in willful regression. Pretty ladies in camo coats who dig for vintage clothes and records is a winning addition to a promo too.
Because everybody seems to care about Air Jordans nowadays, including the post VII versions that the people of Britain used to let gather dust in the select stores that carried them and because I’m being exceptionally lazy right now, it’s a good time to dump some lesser-discussed Jordan ephemera up here. I maintain that in terms of sub-cultural shoe spotting, from Heavy D to ‘School Daze’, ‘Warlock’ and beyond, the Air Jordan II is deeply underrated and easily one of the greatest Jordans ever. To this day, I’ve seen every other Jordan crop up, but only handled an original pair of IIs once. Every reissue misses the point because the Made in Italy status of the shoe that pitched it perfectly into a world where high-end brands were making their own hustler-friendly sports footwear and swatted them away with one of the definitive designs that bore so much power that it didn’t even bother with a swoosh. For that reason, there’s only one issue of the Jordan II that’s any good and those highs and lows in the two colourways are no longer wearable. Both those colours crop up in Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ video and the recent ‘Bad25’ documentary got a good shot of them in between all the PUMAs and fawning talking heads.
But that’s not my favourite Jordan II moment in popular culture — ‘Sports Illustrated’s final issue of 1987 was a picture special, with a close up shot of Walter Iooss Jr’s overhead shot of Mike. The odd thing is, despite it being the year of the II, Jordan isn’t wearing a pair – he’s wearing a deeply nondescript pair of the low-priced Court Force Low. Not the strangest thing. What is strange is that if you flip the same magazine to the back cover, there’s a man in a Winston cigarette ad, sat on a stoop taking in those tasty carcinogens while wearing a pair of…Nike Air Jordan IIs. It’s as if somebody painstakingly took the time out to switch the footwear in the photos.
With the XIII on the comeback trail this weekend, they should have retroed the September 1997 NikeTown launch party for that shoe (bearing in mind that it was the dawn of the spin-off Jordan Brand too), complete with Dwayne from ‘A Different World’ and BLACKStreet’s Chauncey. I think Jordan Brand could probably get them to attend for a not considerable fee, and I’m sure I’ve spotted Mike in that suit in recent years. Around the same time, Bobbito caught up with Jordan for ‘Vibe’s ‘Sound Check’ and MJ suddenly aged when ‘In the Ghetto’ by Eric B & Rakim (the Jordan of rap) was played, professing to have never heard of the god and claiming to never listen to rap at all. What would Heavy D have said? Still, his, “Is this hard rap?” query is something I occasionally use when an unfamiliar artist is blared in my direction. Strange to think an athlete who’s so namechecked and linked to hip-hop never actually messes with rap. In a curious way, that makes Jordan even more hip-hop, just like Scarface when he revealed he listens to Enya and Pink Floyd instead of rap.
Mr Salehe Bembury is a key mind behind the Cole Haan Lunargrand shoe, which has been widely imitated but not yet bettered in its mix of the weird and the traditional (I maintain the grey with volt was the truest, purest example of that impure blend at its most effective) and he put me onto an image that’s on his blog via Jeff Henderson (it’s a veritable chain of image sources and I’m assuming Jeff is the same Jeff Henderson who was integral to the design of the excellent Lunar Eclipse and Air Max 2009) of a possible prototype of a high heel that seems to use Lunarlon. What happens to Lunarlon and Cole Haan now, post-Nike? I have no idea. What I do know is that it’s a pretty cool addition to a high heel.
The only drag at this time of year is starting all over again. It’s best to try to start from scratch from January 1st, lest you become one of those people dragging old clippings around and making references to barely seen projects from half a decade ago. Especially if you’re writing for a living. The only projects that count are the ones ahead of you — we might live in a world of nostalgia and retro fixation, but don’t render yourself a retro. This policy began just as I’d started submitting sycophantic rap reviews to magazines to obtain free CDs and — rather quaintly — to get my name in print. It was 2001 — people cared about stuff like that back then.
In May that year, I watched a fairly joyless and disturbing Channel 4 ‘Cutting Edge’ documentary called ‘Brian’s Story’ that charted the street-level, hand-to-mouth existence of a Cambridge-educated journalist called Brian Davis, from the occasionally amusing misunderstandings and chaotic meanderings that replaced a successful ascent at a time when print press really mattered, as Brian slept rough and muttered his way through central London. Brian had written a book called ‘The Thriller: the Suspense Film from 1946’ in 1973 (with the cover using the classic shot of Popeye Doyle shooting Nicoli from ‘The French Connection’) considered to be a definitive text on the genre. He wrote for ‘Campaign’ and ultimately became editor of ‘Creative Review’ between 1982 and 1984 with an apparent reputation for perfect prose despite a shambolic way-of-life.
Becoming editor of ‘Campaign’ in 1984 at the age of 39, Brian walked out of the job after a week into a freelance existence marred by manic depression and alcoholism. Dave Nath’s documentary caught him sixteen years into that uncertain world, where a lack of work had put him on the streets. Brian wielded his bag of press clippings as the only link to a past life, talking about the big breaks that lay ahead of him and mumbling about a presumably fictional date set to interview Roman Polanski that would dig him out his rut. There was some funny stuff, like the jump cut from him being given a home to sleep in by a family member to a spectacular mess with marks on the kitchen walls from neglected cookery missions. Then there was the really unfunny stuff, like Brian falling to his death from the roof of a cheap hotel.
It wasn’t the triumphant back from the brink tale that he assumed the documentary would depict, but Brian was likable throughout and ‘Brian’s Story’ reinforced just how unreinforced our future is. If it could happen to somebody that talented — though nobody ever claimed he didn’t have his flaws — it could happen to anybody. And it’s a long way down. So I figured that it’s best not to be that person living in the past, with portfolio scans and LinkedIn lists replacing those faded carrier bags of old triumphs, and that it’s best to focus on the next.
Alas, like other documentary favourites of mine like ‘The Knocker’s Tale,’ Brian’s Story’ isn’t available online. Perhaps it’ll be added to Channel 4’s 4OD service at some point this year. Every time I hurl a BlackBerry across the room in a tantrum, give a MacBook the Ike Turner treatment or think back to my mum thinking I was autistic for being able to recall Dengar, Zuckuss and 4-Lom but not being able to add 1+1 I think back to Brian’s decline. The freelance realm can destroy a fragile mind.
(Picture courtesy of Sneaker Freaker)
It’s 2012. That means we must have robots cooking dinner, TVs implanted into our eyeballs and cars that do the driving, right? No. But we have got phones with cameras and affiliated apps that make the pictures taken look like they’re from the past. That’ll do. Plus we can spread rumours and make up Martin Luther King quotes for viral purposes by way of micro blogging. 2012 is awesome. What did you think a shoe would look like by this moment in time? the Nike-owned Cole Haan’s brogues with Lunarlon are an amusing mix of futurism and fuddy-duddy and I think I like them. That’s visible Lunarlon, not the secret drop-in midsole variation either. On discussing a friend’s move to Cole Haan, I joked about Lunar brogues and was told that I wasn’t too far off the mark.
Nike man Jarrett Reynolds’ custom saddle shoes with a Dynamic Support sole caused some attention just over a year ago, and the fruits of that project seem to be present in the Lunargrand wingtip that’s in the latest Sneaker Freaker. But why are people sleeping on the grey and lime variant in the traditional Lunar palette? That’s a truly insane creation that fills the strange cool kid gulf between total tech on the foot (witness the popularity of the Lunar line and Free Run+ 2) and Alden, Alfred Sargent and the rest. The Lunargrand is dumb yet amazing. Cole Haan’s been using Nike technologies for a minute, but they’ve long been the brand obstructing my digs in Nike outlets. This is something far more interesting.
Sports footwear trying to look like “proper” shoes is corny. Proper shoes trying to look like sports footwear is a far more entertaining proposition. Back in the early 1980s, Nike’s decision to make smart shoes using Nike technologies wasn’t a success, but it resulted in a range of forgotten shoes in plain and moc-toe styles like the Bedouin and Vagabond circa 1984, that used the Octowaffle pattern outsole as an adaption of existing Nike running technologies. Looking back, the styles are Clarks-alikes, and the decision to buy Cole Haan a few years later was probably a smart move, but I guarantee that many would lose their minds if somebody broke out the Bedouin now. The smart Nike shoes weren’t a success at the time, but the same thinking (and the popularity of Mark McNairy’s creations) makes these a little more timely. Nearly twenty years later, the HTM Zoom Macropus (a clever spin on the marsupial genus that contains the wallaby) was a bold move at trend level too.
While Nike are revisiting past experiments, they need to put out the stonewashed Nike Denim Full-Zip Jacket with the FORCE logo and underarm zips, plus the Denim Shorts that were released around 1990 to wear with the Air Force Five. A.C. Slater meets David Robinson is a strong look.
If you’re looking for something mindless to watch as New Year’s Day winds down, I recommend one of 2011’s most underrated action films — ‘Ironclad.’ It might outstay its welcome, but if you enjoyed 1985’s grim Paul Verhoeven-helmed ‘Flesh+Blood’ ‘Ironclad’ takes the medieval misery way beyond anything there. No fucking elves or orcs — just lots of fighting, and some of the goriest scraps I’ve ever seen. Forget Colin Firth with a speech impediment. This was one of the best British movies of the year. The beating of a man to death with a severed arm is a nice touch. Not even Paul Giamatti’s shit Engish accent could spoil it.