(Image borrowed from my friends at Project 4000 who wrote a very nice piece about this shoe and laced it properly too)
Shoe collaborations are played out. They seemed amazing in 2003 but now they’re just brands going through the motions. They veered to the middle of the road. Most people have no connection — emotional or cultural — to the shoe that they’re reworking. There’s still some standouts, but the majority of collaborations should have stayed as unanswered emails. When Ryan at Reebok asked if I wanted to do a Classic I jumped at the chance — it’s kind of this blog’s first partner project and it was surreal to be doing it as a solo mission rather than under the guise of my day job (where you can play the blame game if it’s crap — and I’ve worked on some crap collaborations — but I also got to call in on some folks who know what they’re talking about. Charlie, BJ, Nick, Mubi, Chris and the remarkably patient David Ting were all super helpful and by following/ignoring advice we ended up with the pictured shoe. Mr Frank Rivera connected me with Reebok, so he deserves lots of credit.
Concepts are the worst too. Who wants to apply a narrative to a shoe to justify its existence? People didn’t seem to do that back when we didn’t care about nicknames. Now it’s all about basing a colourway on some village ruins or an old clock. It’s not my kind of thing. And people give shoes nicknames — I could have come out and call this ‘the jailbird’ but it’s not called that — it’s a Reebok Classic and as a Brit, for several years it was pretty much standard issue. The Classic and Workout were the AF1 of the UK until dudes actually started wearing the AF1 instead of these.
The Classic was never a rarity or object of desire around my way, but it was a £55 shoe that embodied a certain lifestyle and scope to grab another pair in the event of a scuff. It’s a crispy shoe that had clubbing, raving and grafting connections. It’s the ultimate pub shoe. We Brits own this shoe — Reebok may have crossed the Atlantic in the late 1970s, but this is the shoe of the people.
The big elephant in the room when we talk about influence is the criminal population’s role in selling product — I’m not talking snide Stone Island and Armani denim. I’m talking that aspiration to own the shoes that those with illegal income could afford. While the Classic was attainable, it was still worn by wide boys.
Seeing as I couldn’t top the all white, all black or block colour editions of the Classic, I decided to go high concept with it. Why not celebrate the unspoken influencers who helped popularise this shoe? Not glamourising them, but just making a criminal shoe brought to justice. So the idea to put a tan leather Reebok Classic in a prison suit, as if it was finally apprehended after a decade on the run, came to be. The Reebok Classic had one of the footprints most commonly found at crime scenes, so why not go crazy with that idea? I took the elephant in the room, shot it in the head and took the ivory for display.
Grey areas are a fun place to start creating product. What I did was hardly design (that’s something that only designers do) but it let me go off on crazed tangents and facilitate the shoe version of an entry on this page — a rambling blog for the feet, if you will.
Or — and this is preferable — you can ignore the below and appreciate it for looks alone. No narrative, no stories, no unnecessary explanations.
This chart from a British forensic science textbook shows how sports footwear is used to trace criminals. While this book is from 2010, I believe this chart is from a couple of years prior, but it shows the Reebok Classic was still in the ranking (the LTD was top of the cops back then) because the Reebok Classic was on top that year.
The Reebok Classic is also a legendary UK pub shoe and the pub is traditionally a hotbed of embroidered YSL, Polo and Lacoste logos (sadly, eroded by the rise of SuperDry in pubs I’ve been to recently) — some legit and some looking a little wonky. As a result, a Polo pattern on some shorts was an inspiration too.
After some speedy research on prison shoes I figured it would be cool to make an alternative prison shoe, because nobody (well, maybe the nonces) should have to wear the the knock off $13.85 prison-issue AF1s here.
Sir Edmund du Cane introduced arrows on prison overalls in the 1870s to make prisoners more visible if they escaped. The broad arrow was traditionally a mark of military supplies in the UK dating back to the 1500s. In the excellent Vintage Menswear book (made by the minds behind The Vintage Showroom) there’s an image of some boots given out to POW by the British military during the 1940s. They’ve got an arrow etched on the toe and there’s talk of similar shoes having an arrow etched on the outsole to leave an indentation in the ground (which links to the crime scene footprint concepts, albeit an incarcerated version) that were discontinued in 1922. How about turning that into a Polo style repeat embroidery to connect pub and prison wear? And how about making the broad arrows go forward rather than upward to represent speed — after all, this was sold as a real running shoe in Runner’s World magazines from the mid 1980s.
(both shots from the Vintage Menswear book)
THE ORANGE CANVAS
Reading Azie Faison’s Game Over, he mentions hustlers in Harlem that wore white on white Reeboks. That had me thinking about how the criminal affiliations weren’t just British. So why not make it international? American prison jumpsuits in high visibility orange were introduced to do exactly what Sir Edmund introduced arrows for. These canvas panels overlap the leather to reinforce that Classic Leather wearing a jumpsuit look.
If it’s not gum, it’s an ice sole on a Classic — the old JD and First Sport editions were at their best with an ice sole and some had pound notes printed under the ice. In line with the talk of arrows cut into turn of the 20th century prison shoe soles and the whole footprint at a crime scene concept, why not put arrows under the ice?
My dad used to wear a tan pair of Classics so this is a tribute to his shoes. The Reebok Classic is part of that garment leather 1983-era, bought by accident story, where that soft leather (that was considered unsuitable for shoes) changed the fitness shoe market. This leather is just as soft, but it’s of a far higher quality.
This was based on a grey sweatshirt that I assumed was a standard issue prison yard suit somewhere, but I’m not sure that’s actually true. I watched too many movies where people inside were wearing grey crewnecks.
The borstal system was abolished in 1982, but it spawned the infamous borstal dot tattoo. Long before we feared teardrops, local psychos would have a dot tattooed on their hand or face made to commemorate doing time in a young offender’s institution. Nick Schonberger suggested putting one on the shoe and seeing as it was traditionally between the thumb and forefinger on the right hand, it’s represented by a single metal black top eyelet on the medial shoe of the right foot — that leather is almost a flesh tone anyway. There’s no black eyelet on the left shoe.
ARROWS IN THE TONGUE LOGO & UNION JACK
They just looked cool. There’s no meaning behind them at all. Wherever I could put an arrow, I did. Plus I haven’t got my own logo that I could use. When in doubt, resort to call outs and mess with what’s already there.
OTHER INSPIRATION: Porridge, Ghosts of the Civil Dead, Bad Boys, McVicar, Penitentiary, Penitentiary II, Penitentiary III, Scum (both versions), Short Eyes, Runaway Train, Prison, Scared Straight, Midnight Express, A Prophet, Oz, Scrubbers, The Shawshank Redemption, Stir Crazy, An Innocent Man, Lock Up, Tango & Cash, Fortress, Chopper, Everynight…Everynight, Brubaker, Stir, The Animal Factory, Undisputed, Cool Hand Luke, American History X, Undisputed and Borstal Boy.