I’m on holiday. That renders this blog unimaginative and hurled together for the time being unless you want a stack of filtered junk food Instagram images. Bar the guy working the airport taxi rank in Goadomes, what happened to any footwear point-of-difference? New York is awash with Jordan XIs, Foamposites and Roshe Runs — like every, single city in the fucking world. Curious to think that as a global fixation with sport footwear seems to escalate, it’s actually weaker than ever in terms of risk taking. More choice than ever but less free willingness to take risk is a strange paradox. The day shoes were designed for non-sporting purposes was the beginning of the end.
Sure, we always knew that, more often than not, they weren’t being worn for athletic purposes, but it was quaint that brands pretend that wasn’t the case. When you specifically target a shoe hoarding audience (several of whom are arguably pretty easily impressed, despite a propensity for getting angry on social media), the byproduct is destined to be mediocrity. When New Yorkers broke out the All Conditions Gear and Terra pieces, designed for tearing around hills, trails and mountains, it was one of the truly great moments of re appropriation. In 2013, nothing happens by accident.
Those swathes of colours and silhouettes are still unparalleled. Grand Puba busting out the OG Air Revaderchi on In Living Color is a classic moment. Alas, he never opted to wear the Nike Poobah cycling shoe (which, as I recall, was ACG affiliated), which is a another gem from the days of gaudy, glorious, rustic tech. But we’ve been through this topic before. Here’s a few low-res, undersized scans from 1987 (pre All Conditions) to 1995 for a quick reminder of why I never shut the fuck up about this line. The 1987 Traverse with the purple laces and the 1992 Air Traverse with the speckle and tribal print are two oft-forgotten moments that should be highlighted time and time again.
For those that actually look at this blog, I hope this material brings a little sunshine as your weekend concludes. I love Nike’s All Conditions Gear division and I know a fair few who are equally, if not more, psychotic about the product they’ve pumped out over the years. Even those speckled, beige boxes have us babbling incoherently. I’m constantly haunted by turning down an ACG trip in Utah back in late 2008 (I had my reasons) where I could have nerded out by campfire. ACG is bigger than sneakers to me — the colours and resolutely uncommercial nature of the range always struck me as a labour of love rather than some cash-in, with several key Nike personnel enjoying steep gradients in the name of fun. That ACG aesthetic still resonates in contemporary product and 1989-1995 was one of the best times to be a little peculiar about offroad product. The colours on the apparel at the time of ACG’s 1989 launch are particularly interesting.
From 1981’s launch of Magma, Approach (complete with GORE-TEX) and Lava Dome to the Escape runner and the rugged pieces in each subsequent catalogue (Son of Lava Dome, anyone? Bring that back) and the Nike Hiking line pre-ACG, the mix of muted and some brave blasts of pop colour, trail styling was a significant influence on my perception of good design. It’s a good thing that I found myself working alongside folk who appreciated it too. It’s no surprise that Japanese collectors appreciated ACG’s odder pieces (like the Moc) a little more on their debut, but the work of Tinker Hatfield, Sergio Lozano, Tory Orzeck, Peter Fogg, Carl Blakeslee and Robert Mervar on the silhouettes is appreciated round these parts. Salutes to Nate VanHook for his work on ACG via Nike Sportswear too — seeing the Lunar Macleay on an inspiration board at Stone Island HQ in the new ‘INVENTORY’ proves that shoe made its mark in terms of innovation as well as nods to old Nike favourites.
Of course, there’s the “what if?” factor too. Geoff Hollister was set to launch Nike Aqua Gear (with an emphasis on boat activity) around the time ACG was launched — a watery Nike sub-range to work alongside the Aqua Sock. It could have generated some brilliantly lurid garments and further footwear, but sadly wasn’t to be. Later ACG releases made to work in and out of rivers and streams carry some Aqua Gear spirit, while the Sock stays classic.
Over the last few years an emphasis on retro has distracted us from some of Nike’s brilliantly polarizing ACG releases. The Tallac, debuted in 2003 was a classic piece of strange and 2009’s Zoom Ashiko was excellent too. This seasons fine Zoom Meriwether feels like the intelligent offspring of the former footwear. My buddy Frank the Butcher (not to be mistaken with Mike Reid’s wheeler-dealer recently tweeted a picture of some black-on-black ACG boots that piqued my interest. I enjoy the Nike boot’s status as an inner city orientated release masquerading as an offroad design.
Nobody’s going up a mountain in Goadomes, but they stay classic — the mystery shoe carried a faint aura of the DC and Baltimore favourite, but minus the Frankenstein’s Monster factor. I love this Laced interview with Mr. Blakeslee about the genesis of that shoe, how it was a Timberland response and how Udi from Training Camp was involved. Frank’s boot had me losing my mind — GORE-TEX, a slightly Bakin shape (presumably built on the same last as the ACG Foamposite Bakin boot) and even an air of old personal favourites like the Max Uptempo were all in the mix. Except this looked to be built like a brick shithouse, The model is the Air Max Prime and it’s an expensive one at $200 (only $25 cheaper than the insane Superdome model was in 1992) and it’s available in spots like Eastbay now. It looks built to last, with that centre eyelet, carbon-style heel counter, swoosh and ‘ACG’ on the Max Air being particularly effective. I’m sure the majority will loathe it, but that just makes them more appealing.
This article in the April/May 1981 issue of ‘Backpacker’ was published shortly after the original Nike hiker ads with John Roskelley and crew ran, and discusses the rise of GORE-TEX, sneaker hybrids and a lighter breed of hiking shoe. It’s fun to see GORE-TEX treated as a flash-in-the-pan by some, but there’s some good material in there on how it was placed in performance product.
Then there’s the ACG and Nike Hiking marketing. Merging a rustic breed of beard-friendly gear with state-of-the-art technologies and a fair amount of whimsy that probably wouldn’t make it to publication in other divisions, some really smart W+K copywriting and design shines through in each of these ads. The Air Azona one (what’s Nike Outdoors though?) is particularly excellent in breaking down the ACG formula.
After prison films, college campus films are another of my peculiar preoccupations. It’s doubly odd to think of the rich jerks being sartorial inspirations. I favour the slobs. I still think the current brace of bellends in bow ties look like a simpleton’s imaginary friend and I’m still with Two-Bit Matthews on the state of trousers (“Hey check out their pants!”) these days. Still, I feel bad for you folk that spent big on ‘Take Ivy’, only to see a reprint turn up with English translation for next-to-nothing with an inexplicable K-Swiss endorsement…yes, the same K-Swiss that was founded a year after the book was published. You’re probably feeling like Carl Carlson did with the Stonecutters, “Well, it was a real nice secret organization we had once…” Shit happens.
Half of the biggest whiners are Ivy new-jacks anyhow, and the Film Noir Buff folk got there a long time before you did. I’ve been watching a few documentaries about the darker side of college life in the States too…honestly, the whole fraternity culture is baffling. Can’t you guys just form informal groups and get shitfaced? Does it have to be steeped in ritualistic twattery? Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland’s ‘Frat House’ and Billy Corben’s ‘A Question of Consent’ don’t depict youths in elegant clothes wandering from lecture to lecture in a refined fashion. None of that Ivy stuff here—just braying cretins in reversed baseball headwear hi-fiving and acting the tit. It’s curious to imagine that the attire of college students was aspirational. Things have changed, as to be compared to a contemporary student is sartorial slander.
I’d like to see ‘Take Former-Polytechnic’ depicting the hungover, clipboard wielding sports science students of Hertfordshire shuffling around in G-Star t-shirts with scarves, bootcut jeans and flip-flops. Even in an institution like Oxford, I’m reliably informed that the levels of atrocious brands like Jack Wills are extensive. It’s odd to think that folk don’t actually dress like Ryan O’Neal in ‘Love Story’, Wendell Burton in ‘The Sterile Cuckoo’ or Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson in ‘Carnal Knowledge’s early scenes (incidentally, Jack’s “Answer me, you ball-busting, castrating, son of a cunt bitch! Is this an ultimatum or not?” line includes Hollywood’s first use of the C’ word). It looks like date-rape chic overrides the aspirational look of learned elegance in the real world’s campuses.
Those documentaries also had me digging for some hazing gone wrong b-flicks. There’s been some well-documented deaths from campus initiations—particularly in the mid to late ’70s—and in 1977, two films emerged on the topic. ‘Fraternity Row’ is set during Hell Week at a wealthy college in the 1950s. It’s surprisingly low-key, and if you’re some kind of apparel nerd, the wardrobe throughout might be of some interest. I was a little disturbed at the lack of visible breasts, ‘Louie Louie’ on the soundtrack, or general debauchery, but it you’re in the mood, it runs through some curious rituals pretty effectively. Even though it’s far from star-studded, it makes me yearn for a time when Paramount would afford the most budget of films with superb poster art like the above, but its flop status meant that it stays in non-VHS and DVD limbo. Maybe K-Swiss might show up with some sponsorship moolah.
‘The Hazing’ is also known as ‘The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse’ and is actually a half-decent b-movie based around a bad situation, hapless planning and a twist at the end that you wouldn’t see coming if I hadn’t told you there was one. Now you’ll probably just work it out. It’s all based around a hazing accident, but whereas ‘Fraternity Row’ ends on a moral note with a tragedy, this one pretty much commences with one after an excess of unnecessary near-nakedness. Both flicks really did disappear into limbo, barely amassing a cult following—more like an enthusiastic gathering, indicating that folk liked their university movies to be a little more anarchic, or at least heavy on some bloodshed.
Nike, your Terra line confuses me. It has done for a long time. So we know that the Terra T/C unleashed Phylon in the early ’80s and remains inexplicable un-retroed in the VNTG line, and Japan got the TERRA Rainbow. Conventional nerd lore tells us that the Terra ACG from 1991 was the only ACG Terra design, and that Terra would be reborn as a non-ACG off road running line circa. 1996 with classics like the Outback, Sertig and Ketchikan. However—people tend to forget 1992’s ACG Terra Mac or 1996’s ACG branded Terra Tor, looking a lot like the Nike Air Terra designs that would follow. Perhaps it was the Tor that passed over the Terra torch.
And getting a paragraph reflected in a pool of water is the new blogging. Odd to see something you wrote in these circumstances, but props to Stephen, Arc’teryx and team Firmament for putting this presentation together. I like Veilance jackets a lot.
Must-see TV nowadays is the done thing. You could blackout under the pressure of watching drug, sex and crime-related US imports where people do bad things, or simply act sophisticated. That teetering pile of boxsets is probably mocking how out-of-touch you are each time you pass it, like some shiny, less-bloody ‘Telltale Heart’. It’s not easy to keep up with what you’re supposed to be watching, and a fair amount of “edgy” television reeks of desperation. However—if you like John Cassavetes, jazz, awesome guest stars, effortless cool and old NYC, you should buy the boxset of forgotten pianist turned PI show ‘Johnny Staccato’. It’s as lightweight as much of the TV of 1959 and 1960 was, yet it’s hugely entertaining too, with John seemingly calling in favour after favour and making it fall in line with his characteristic quest for authenticity. It’s on sale now, and you can add it to that stack of things you’ll get round to watching when the flu comes-a-calling this winter…
Agh, these blog posts just keep on lacking brevity. I can only blame a terminal case of verbal diarrhea and misplaced enthusiasm for it. GORE-TEX is on a premium, waterproofed pedestal with me for some reason. The mundane reality that the name is merely a hyphenated mix of a Mr. Gore and son’s surname and the word ‘textile’ is conveniently forgotten whenever someone hands me a product that employs the material on the lining. How does a breathable fabric become such a mark-of-quality, and more importantly, confer the otherwise passable to a taped-seam must-have? Why does that name still carry such clout?