I think these shoe tattoos — as spotted by Mr. Charlie Morgan — might be some of the few sports footwear tattoos I respect. The sole exceptions to the rule would be that guy with the Trimm Trab foot piece (because I imagine he would smash my head in if I didn’t respect it), my good friend BJ’s photo realistic AM95 on his leg and the never-realised, but discussed plan by Nick Schonberger to get the oft-derided Air Jordan XV permanently marked under his skin. However, kids getting Air Max 1 flash on their skin at London’s Crepe City a year or so ago created something for them to hide from the grandkids. But as part of Dan Smith’s excellent 2011 compilation of straight edge tattoos, With the Light of Truth, this NB, Saucony, adidas, Vans and Chuck Taylor flash from Jason Anthony (of Phoenix’s Golden Rule) at least plays on the power of those objects within that culture where they’ve become potent symbols of something more than quite liking something for a few months. Maybe the key is being into more than just some shoes. In the book there’s a good One Life, One Choice Infrared AM90 piece too. At time of writing, I still haven’t seen an Air Jordan tattoo that wasn’t questionable, regardless of the tattooist’s skill — even hardcore and straight edge connotations don’t seem to make that work.
No time to write so it’s time to throw up more Polo and RRL ads from the past. It’s safe to say that the saxophone tie isn’t the strongest look from the Ralph Lauren archives — their ad spend in magazines during the late 1980s and early 1990s seemed to be enough to buy a private island. I still need to dig out that LIFE article from around this time that debuted the American flag knitwear.
There’s not a lot of stones left to shift in the quest to bring old classics back, but the New Balance M997 seems to have been resurrected the right way. It took a lot to release a shoe in 1990 that had some visual restraint that affords it an ageless quality, but NB did it with this one, despite applying all kinds of technologies like motion devices and rubber compounds with complicated names.
It’s a good time to be into the most esoteric and underexplored elements of hip-hop culture — there’s books on European b-boys posing and there’s a Shirt Kings retrospective, so why shouldn’t there be a book of Buddy Esquire’s flyer art? Born in the Bronx was a good primer, but Buddy Esquire: King of the Hip-Hop Flyer arrives in June and delves a little deeper of the man who created modern art from the flyer format before it was just a case of Photoshop and an existing iconic image.
“That’s shoe business! Bill Clinton wears two kinds of shoes for running: New Balance model 1500 athletic shoes, size 12EE, made in Maine with the words “Mr. President” stitched in them, retailing for about $160; and Asics GT-2 sneakers, which are made in Asia and retail for about $50. He gets both kinds of shoes as gifts from the manufacturers.”
(St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 10th, 1994)
I see you getting excited about celebrities co-signing shoes, but collaborations are played out. Special makeups for world leaders are still powerful though. New Balance handed Obama a personalised M990 last year, but every image I’ve seen of him exercising has him down as a Nike and ASICS man. The early 1990s was something different though and images of Clinton jogging from his time in office — including his short-short outings with Al Gore (who seems to favour the M997) — are an NB and ASICS affair and the M1500s crop up a few time, even though the Mr. President lettering isn’t visible. New Balance’s golden era performance tech was a good choice though. What’s even more intriguing is the SMU of the Nike Air Max 90 made for George H.W. Bush. Images of these from the Department of Nike Archives have drifted around for a while (the image above has cropped up periodically on message boards for a while and it would be nice to be able to credit the originator), with their own AIR PRES branding and a colourway which I believe was exclusive to the big man. Post Gulf War, Bush Sr. took regular runs in his own variant of this Nike classic and there’s plenty of images of him wearing it (I’m certain that I saw an Air Max BW in a similar makeup at some point too) in 1992 for election era photo opportunities. The elder bush broke out some Reebok before that. Back before his presidency, George W. Bush had been seen in Nike Air Challenge Pro Lows in his younger days, but a charity auction had him donating a pair of Mizunos. So what have we learned? Expensive New Balance was for Democrats and one-of-one Nike Air Max became the Republican pick, and American Presidents have better taste in footwear than rappers do.
Here’s a quick digression:
The problem with some of the most interesting contemporary movements has been that everybody assumed they’d never end and that somebody else was doing the documentation. In great movements everybody is living for the moment and there’s a glorious lack of nostalgia. As the years pass, we’re all liable to develop a nasty case of retrospect and with the magazines of the time collapsing, late 1990s and early 2000s scenes are left to live on conversationally and become myths. That descent into apocryphal storytelling is no bad thing — bearing in mind that a lot of crazes sound better than they look — but in the case of UK garage’s few glorious years, it was one of the few truly visual moments in youth culture on these shores. From crispy clothing to prison lacing, as champagne hedonism mutated into tracksuits and street DVDs, a fascinating aesthetic was present throughout. Salutes to Ewen Spencer for capturing that scene in style in both 2005’s Open Mic and the forthcoming Brandy & Coke book (covering the glossier years preceding Open Mic). This Vice interview with Ewen is excellent. Having attempted to source images from these eras recently, I can testify that images don’t come easily, because they pre-empt the cheap digital device and phone camera eras. After that, we’ve got too much information. One day, people will pay a lot for books like Open Mic (which is already out of print), so appreciate them while they’re around.
The internet seems to amplify tragedy to the point of vulgarity. Social media seems to have created — or at least enabled — a realm for grief junkies to network with other oddballs and Steve Jobs’s passing has instigated a predictable level of ghoulish hyperbole (shouts to Jenny Owen for that one) that seems to undermine the character they’re deifying in death. Mr. Jobs was a great man — his public speaking skills, vision, bluntness, absolute aversion to mediocrity and one-word way with emails to whining customers are all inspirational traits.
He never seemed like one for weeping in shop doorways.
Steve Jobs’s Stanford address and 1985 ‘Playboy’ interview are magnificent — hopefully the impending official biography will be equally as essential, but to pay homage to Steve, blogging about his taste in shoes seemed appropriate in its nerdiness. Other than some lapses into the mystery black shoes, the turtleneck and denim of Apple addresses were frequently set off with the grey New Balance 991 (I believe he also broke out the 992 and — when the 992 was superseded and deleted — the 993 in 2010) running shoes. Sure, Steve wore Nike Moires in 2006 for the Nike+ announcement and looked awkward in adidas over a decade prior, but he’ll be fondly remembered for prowling the stage, half Milk Tray Man, half casual dad in those New Balances.
For all the aesthete tendencies and focus on curves, it’s curious that Steve would opt for what’s arguably one of the ugliest shoes in the NB armoury. I’ve got a lot of love for the 991, but it’s the quality, the comfort of ABZORB and the shoe’s performance credibility rather than slick looks that make it appeal to me. The ‘USA’ panel is an awkward detail on a busy upper. Then it all makes sense — Steve had plenty on his mind and he didn’t need his shoes to cause any issues — the New Balance 991 is undisputedly trustworthy. Geniuses don’t want to deal with nonsense.
After taking some pictures of the New Balance 991 production line in the UK factory in Flimby earlier this year, my appreciation for the shoe increased significantly. I wasn’t sure where they should go, but it made sense to up them here in their entirety. I’m sure there are some like minded oddballs thinking differently who’ll enjoy geeking out over this kind of imagery. That afternoon we only caught the navy variation being put together but we saw the preparation for the greys that Steve favoured. Whether the big man preferred a Made in England or Made in the USA variant remains a mystery, but it’s long perplexed me that even UK-made versions of the 991 still have the ‘USA’ text on them. It’s unlikely that Apple would ever let anybody shoot inside their factories either, but that transparency is what gives New Balance its own rabid audience — one unlikely to switch brand allegiance and willing to cyber beef with critics too. Brand loyalty’s a powerful thing.
New Balance’s ‘N’ application might be one of my favourite pieces of branding. I know a few folks who don’t bother with the brand on the basis that the ‘N’ looks ugly to them, but that’s because they’re idiots. Introduced circa 1976 (I’ve seen 320s with the uglier logo-free look as well as the ‘N’) when the brand recruited branding guru Terry Heckler (his Heckler Associates company defined the Starbucks brand too) who argued against protestations that it looked too Nike with, “That’s good, they’re making more money than us. We’ll sell twice as much.” Fair point.
Execs at a newly-christened Nike were concerned that their swoosh would fail because despite the sense of motion it conveyed, it had no performance benefits — adidas’s 3-Stripes, PUMA’s Formstripe and Onitsuka’s Tiger Stripes were all reputed to add extra support to the upper as well as make their mark. I know that’s not actually true for Onitsuka, and I doubt it is for the other two either, but it’s a nice story. The ‘N’ is a recognizable stamp, plain and simple (I actually had a go at cutting one out in the factory earlier in the year and managed to embed the cutter two inches into the cutting board), but when it’s made of Scotchlite, it’s arguably one of the truly functional sneaker logos. I can’t get enough of the reaction when light hits them.
Alongside the phenomenal pricetags ($130 for a 1300 in 1985, $160 for a 1500 in 1988), the ‘N’ is what piqued my interest in New Balance. Saucony, Mizuno and Brooks never quite had the killer application to sway me from the big two, but Heckler’s work paid dividends. I recently dug out the ‘Enduring Performance: The New Balance Story’ book from 2006 and realised that I shouldn’t have written it off at the time for lacking an exhaustive model list, because there’s some great material in there. I’m liking the new UK A/W 2011 catalogue too, with a Flimby-made soft leather cover, complete with an ‘N’ attached. The content’s decent too.
On a deeply unrelated note, thoroughly enjoyed Jerzy Skolimowski’s ‘Essential Killing.’ I was concerned that the symbolism and allegorical nature of it might make it as intolerable as Nicholas Winding Refn’s ‘Valhalla Rising’, but at fear of trivializing the topic at hand, it played out like a Guardian reader rendition of ‘First Blood.’ I’ve only dipped into some of Jerzy’s earlier work, but I wasn’t aware that he was the man behind the amazing 1977 Brit-horror oddity, ‘The Shout’ with Alan Bates up to no good using his Aboriginal shouting powers.
Of course, the posters promoting ‘Essential Killing’ as some sort of proper action film means it’s guaranteed to spit out screwfaced punters who went it expecting some heroic bloodshed. I was raised on ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘Quest for Fire’ and I expected more survivalist fun along the same lines. It wasn’t much like that either. I distinctly recall Ken Loach’s ‘My Name is Joe’ being promoted as a pulse-pounding thriller too. It wasn’t, but I respect arthouse cinema getting all misleading and grindhouse on us every once in a while.
Where the film truly excels is in its appearance — it looks like the best video lookbook ever made. Prince Vince legging it around the woods with a beard? The lack of smiles? The bloodstains on a while military snow suit? The flash of Guantanamo orange beneath the black overalls at the start of the Gallo’s escape and initial attempt at disguise? I hope it sets trends. At the very least, the barefoot in snow style would cull a few mindless followers via pneumonia and frostbite amputation.
Apologies for turning this blog into one of those stone-faced, wordless, image blogs for one night only. That wasn’t my avowed intention. This imagery was way too nostalgic and olde world to leave alone without spotlighting some newness down below. But it fell by the wayside because I got waylaid watching the Crufts 2011 finals (that boxer was robbed, yo) and reading about The Idler magazine’s new Idler Academy in west London. I lost concentration entirely.
All I can offer this evening is what was on my hard drive after I pillaged the ‘Backpacker’ archive for imagery pertaining to outdoor performance between 1973 and 1996. The project never amounted to anything, but I know a few like minds who might get a kick out of it. Hell, there’s plenty of right-clickers who might want to stick ‘em on their Tumblrs and claim them as their own. I don’t care, seeing as I borrowed them from a magazine in the first place.
The Columbia, Du Pont, Vasque, Marmot, Universal and Pivetta ads are particularly strong. In the current climate of outdoorsy one-upmanship (a trend that seems to have stuck), I’ll take this copy-heavy, utilitarian focus over the fey drivel that’s inappropriately applied to rugged gear throughout the blog world. I’ve been fixating on the Thinsulate labelling lately as one of my favourite pieces of branding. It’s democratic too compared to the steep price tags on steep incline wear that bears another personal favourite — the GORE-TEX tab.
Beyond the official North Face hookups, I loved Supreme’s woolly hat homage to the Thinsulate branding (not to be mistaken for the Thinsulate Supreme technology) in the vein of their Patagonia tributes.
Normal windy, wordy and pretentious service should resume next week.
I wince every time I see someone with an outlet for their witterings, be it a blog or inexplicably, a place in a magazine starts calling themselves a writer or, god forbid, a journalist. You can hurl the dictionary definition my way that might say otherwise in a most literal sense…shit, you can hurl the whole dictionary at me for all I care, but chances are—and this is especially applicable in my vapid field of work—you’re not. You just string a few sentences together to make a PR happy, to get free things or win the respect of your equally one-dimensional peers. You are most likely, like me, a chancer. Nowadays, if you can button up a denim shirt, you’re putting “stylist‘” on your CV. If you beg friends on Twitter, you’re in “communications“. If you watched ‘Helvetica’ and can crop on PhotoShop you’re a “designer“. If you’ve can do all these things, maybe you can claim you can offer some “creative direction“. Chances are, you’re a prick.
If you’ve written an uncritical, bombastic paragraph about a new t-shirt company by slightly deconstructing the promo-guff someone emailed you as a PDF attachment and are patting yourself on the back I’d like to get semi-literate for a second and point you in the direction of the books above. George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ isn’t necessarily journalism, but as an act of utter immersion, and even if there’s a few liberties with the timeline, as a lesson in scenic setting, characterization and pace minus the pointless sentences that lower eyelids, it’s a necessary read. Don McCullin’s rise from East End snapper to the photojournalist’s photojournalist, risking life and limb in any hellhole you care to name (‘The Bang-Bang Club’ is highly recommended too on a similar topic) is an inspiring and humbling story. He’s an excellent writer too.
Michael Herr took a typewriter and a notebook to Vietnam rather than a Nikon, on assignment for ‘New America Review’, ‘Esquire’ and ‘Rolling Stone’ – he writes with abstract eloquence in heinous conditions, and ‘Dispatches’ is the greatest of all war reports. Then there’s Gay Talese—the impeccably-dressed master of the written portrait. His pieces on Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Floyd Patterson are flawless, and if traditional tailoring and the inner workings ‘Vogue’ are of interest, he set precedents with profiles there too. The minute I got my name in print, the sheen was buffed by the corruptive presence of ad money. I enjoy writing, but it’s stifled by cash-led limitations. As a result, I can’t claim to have done much more than write advertorials. But at least I know my place.
The aim here isn’t to belittle what you do, but to offer some perspective. Reading the above will broaden some horizons, and with luck, bitchslap you into hesitating before you bellow those journalistic credentials. I can’t imagine that Orwell, McCullin, Herr or Talese could flourish in pixels alone. The more intelligent and lucid the writing (though The Sabotage Times has been taking up my web time in the best way possible of late) or imagery, the more the screen makes me squint. Maybe I need glasses, but it leaves me wanting to see it on paper. Any time anyone pays me the slightest compliment, I return to these books to understand my position in the scale of things. You can be okay in the field of fashion footwear, but it’s like being the skinniest kid at fat camp…compared to everyone outside the camp you’re still a waste-of-space.
It’s rare that I mention my employer here, just because it has its own online presence and this blog was started as its distant cousin, but Crooked Tongues is 10 years old this year, and that warrants a mention. That’s a long time in E-years. Many sites have comes and gone—even much of Crooked’s pre-2005 history has been lost for this or that reason. While I seem to have taken some role as a mouthpiece for the site (and the next hack that claims I created it gets a slap), the site’s history pre-empts me by years. Shouts to Russell (the HNIC), C-Law, Chraylen, Acyde, Kahma, Tim, Grace, Niranjela, Dean and Phil, plus the likes of Jeff and Al, and of course, my partner-in-crime (now-Vans) Morganator and the current roster of Mumbi, Tom, Amberley and Jade. Oh yeah, and Zaid, Jaymz, Leo, Chris, James and all the rest. Plus everyone else who ever passed through and many more who were there before me.
I only joined just over half-way through that decade (I wrote some crappy LP retrospectives that Chris Aylen graciously didn’t delete on sight on April 2000 for Spine Magazine)—freelance for Crooked only commenced from mid 2004, leading to a full-time role from January 2006. Ah, memories. There was little like Crooked Tongues before (Nikepark, Shoe Trends and Altsnks were ill though). Were it not for the trusting minds behind the site, my life would be significantly shittier right now. For that, I’m eternally grateful to Russ and the duo of Christophers. I don’t care a fuck for what you think of it now, nor that you’re “over” sports footwear, but Crooked changed the game. The big dogs paid attention. In many ways, it may have been partially responsible for the boom in theme pack “limited” crap, as brands started to take more and more attention to the sneaker weirdos. You may not see overt linkage to it here (it’s my day job), but I’m immensely proud and honoured to be involved. When it happens to piss brands and retailers off, I’m even prouder of it.
From wandering to the site (and ‘Cavemilk’s) launch party at the Great Eastern Hotel in January 2001, wearing Zoo York and Wallees, to the 2004 BBQ, an attempt to capture a “block party” vibe (which I believe, was originally meant to be in a basketball court according to nascent planning), to the April 2005 DMPHI book lunch, to the 2005 BBQ in the same venue as the year before, to the adidas ‘Black Monday’ 2006 event, to the BBK 2007 BBQ, to 2009’s party, the real-world events have been remarkable, forging more than a handful of friendships. While the food will run out fast, and people will angrily text me for being left waiting outside, I hope tomorrow’s tenth anniversary BBQ will be equally memorable. Still, at least we’ve got goodie bags to give away.
C-Law posting up the House33 New Balance 576 recently reminded me I’ve still got my one of ones in the loft. I can give or take the orange laces, but the carbon effect ‘N’ and forefoot is a winner. Can’t forget the PUMA Clyde ‘Warnett’ edition either. The stitched rather than printed lettering makes me love these an awful lot. Like I said, Crooked has afforded me some excellent opportunities.
I’m collating some examples of Slayer self-harm (plus a more professional but equally disturbing ankle scar artwork). These guys really mean it more than Jimmy, Cam, Freeky and Juelz ever did. The chap in the ‘Live Intrusion’ who gets it carved on his inner forearm in the ‘Live Intrusion’ VHS gets extra points for having rubbing alcohol ignited to cauterise the wound. Flaming Slayer skin slashes aren’t big or clever, but I find it an oddly inspiring act of devotion. If you want to leave negative comments surrounding self-harm scarification glorification, I suggest you keep it to yourself-maybe you could carve it onto your thigh or forearm instead. With Slayer, it’s never a cry for help—it’s just a thrash metal war wound.
Sports footwear will probably be the thing that sends me under. It doesn’t take long to get yourself stereotyped as a “shoe dude” – tougher to uncategorise yourself. Not the worst thing in the world, but at the age of 31, you don’t want to be perceived as the sort who wakes up in a cold sweat at the notion of missing the Cool Grey Jordan XIs at Christmas time. That’s not healthy. For all the cynical taint (having worked with most of your favourite brands at one time or another, you’d have to be murmuring on Lithium not to start sneering at the retrospective preoccupation, and the fact line art renders anything shit), but periodically you’ll see something that cuts through the crap – well-to-do fifty-something tourists in Lunar Racers. A pensioner with bicycle clips resting above a rarer Terra Humara makeup (before the reissues). And the image above.
Sat on the hard drive, from someone prone to right clicking and clipping any instance of unexpected sneaker (trainer?) wear, this is a personal favourite. Taken by my good friend, Miss Joanna Chaundy, during a trip to NYC in 2004, at around 4am, it’s become some odd talisman whenever hype fatigue kicks in – these are sneakers worn for necessity, yet the mystery man (are those decorator’s overalls? Is he homeless?) is flossing with a flashbulb aid. The Scotchlite ‘N’ on those New Balances is gloriously at odds with the drab surroundings.
I’ve long had the brand pinned as maintaining a certain democracy despite their place as budget busters back when they dropped the $100+ 1300 back in the mid ’80s. Maybe it’s the minimal marketing budget compared to bigger companies, the Flimby and Boston factories keeping a level of manufacture close to home, or perhaps it’s the low price point on the 574. The 991 has long been the triumphant nerd’s choice – look at Steve Jobs’s feet pre-Nike – as well as the clued up everyman’s pick. This bearded man doesn’t care who, why or how, but the shoes are serving their purpose. There’s a gloriously composed purity to the proceedings caught here. It makes me like the NB more than any mega budget, contrived “viral’ campaign. And I’ll take this look over any number of side-parted Hitler Youth-alikes in the snapshot quest for true street style. This guy needs a lookbook appearance. I love this photo.
Blog post from March 2009.
Hip-hop and sports footwear are practically related. I’m not enough of a tracksuited, beatboxing, uprocking doofus to proclaim them the ‘fifth element’ of the culture because, well, that’s irritating bollocks, but they’re pretty incestuously linked across-the-board. As a result, I gave into a to a Ghostface ‘Beat The Clock’ style self-challenge to out-nerd anything I’ve blogged so far.