Tag Archives: nike

ROCK STAR FOOTWEAR

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Late last week, Twitter was awash with incredulous reactions to commentators who were mostly social media comedians claiming that Kanye West had put Macca on with his out-of-nowhere track, Only One. This is because click baiters picked up on the tweets in question minus the context of their timelines, and because many Paul McCartney fans are often fundamentalists who can’t fathom that anyone into hip-hop could utilise sarcasm or a deadpan joke. After scanning conversations, it became apparent a couple of people genuinely did seem to be oblivious to McCartney’s work. As somebody who’s barely interested in the Beatles (though in Paul’s defence I prefer Jet to most of his old band’s work) because of the preciousness around them, the silly horns and their influence on some right old shit, I envy them and respect them as the unsuspecting nemesis of the old order. I’m more likely to listen to Guess Who’s Back or Two Words than Yesterday and what I liked about one of my favourite Beatles recordings (Phil Spector’s production on Let It Be) was what McCartney hated about it. He’s undeniably talented though and, like many other rich white rock stars, his Nike game was ahead of its time.

You folks associating Beatles with Tretorns (Lennon wore the Stan Smith in black and white nicely though) are missing the stranger stuff — Paul rocked Footscapes several years ago too (as the image above, right-clicked from the glory days of the CT forum attests). I know that ol’ Slowhand, Enoch Powell-loving Eric Clapton, was on Footscapes early too — did Clapton introduce Paul to them? Was it during a Japanese tour? I’ve never fully known. Even Cliff Richard, renowned square, was on a bus full of honeys with a pair of Jordan IVs on his feet back in 1989, Steven Tyler wore all kinds of rare neoprene runners during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we know that Mick Jagger has a pair of Kid Robot AM1s in his stash somewhere. I’m surprised that a McCartney Nike SMU hasn’t made an appearance (maybe it’s down to that 1987 Apple Records Revolution ad beef?) yet, seeing as Rod Stewart, Elton John, Frank Zappa, Devo and Jefferson Starship all had some shoes made for them. Even Clapton got a couple of Nikes — the Presto from 2001 and the mysterious Air Max 95 (check out that Nike plane’s markings too) with his logo on the tongue. All that was before Kanye got his 180s, and it was way ahead of the Yeezy. Beyond the mansions, the royalties and owning their masters, even when they’re not trying, these ageing rock stars have a better inadvertent trainer collection too.

PEER PRESSURE

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Music videos get mentioned here a lot as an inspiration and introduction to brands for a sheltered Bedfordian back in the day. With the M-O-B-B being the party house band of choice this year (with both Supreme and KITH drafting them in), Havoc and Prodigy (who, despite claiming he invented everything a few years back, is one of the original heavily tattooed east coast rappers, back when MCs were showing off a solitary piece on their shoulders) are getting some coin to compensate for their contribution to hard rock style. With the recent ACG relaunch (and the eventual arrival of some proper winter weather in the UK), the 1992 Peer Pressure video deserves some retrospect. Not only is it the track where P reveals his George “It’s called a T-square” Costanza style dream of becoming an architect, the gear being worn is notable too. In a discussion with Ronan from Nike, he pointed out that Puba isn’t the only Air Revaderchi king — Mobb Deep rocked matching pairs of the 1992 classic in this promo, back when they were on their sickle and teen thug rap wave. The Blink-and-miss Raids, that yellow Carhartt sweat and Air Force 1s with tucked in socks and faded denim were huge looks too. Now, hip-hop videos are cheap again, but this era of getting a crew into a couple of locations and doing a lot of walking towards the camera and behind fences is golden. The sickle (which, if my memory of the Prodigy autobiography is fully operational, was referring to his sickle-cell condition as well as their bleak outlook — though it may have been coincidence) and zip up Champion hoods to give them grim reaper looks is a nice, Queensbridge gothic touch.

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BANGERS

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At the ACG relaunch event at London’s NikeLab store, all eyes were on the future, but there was a small amount of archive material on display to provide a little context. With the 1989/1990 wave of inaugural All Conditions Gear apparel being designed by a former Patagonia man its functionality and attention to detail is underrated. The budget blockbuster that is the Air Mada was on display alongside the proto-ACG greatness of the Escape, but that 1989 GORE-TEX Cervino Parka to match your Baltoros, Snowpatch Spire Pullover from the same year with the asymmetric zip and 1992’s ClimaF.I.T. Micro Fiber Anorak. These hastily shot iPhone images don’t do the products justice. As the owner of a couple of pieces from this period, I can testify that those layering system fits aren’t ideal for everyday wear, unless you have fleeces and base layers to accommodate the generous sizing. Those colours are still perfect to me.

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This was the year of the underwhelming collaboration, but Zomby (who soundtracked an ACRONYM® video back in 2012) dropped an unexpected winner with his collaboration with Jonny Banger’s Sports Banger line. Sports Banger’s FILA homaging, Tulisa supporting, Polo meets Sports Direct, Mr Freeze addled worldview is part of a new wave of gleeful bootlegging with British corner shop and high street staples being given tributes in a post T-Shirt Party realm where things sneered at a few years back are being celebrated. 2014 is the year when people who were preoccupied with Shawn J Period when two-step was big and picking at Rawkus’ dying embers when Pay As U Go were popping can claim to be garage and grime heads, but it’s good to see British scenes get their recognition and artists like Skepta get room to move in that renaissance on their own terms. The fact no American could understand this mass of reference points is a pleasant polar opposite to hapless, once-you-go-crap-you-never-go-back attempts to break the States. If you buy both of the Zomby x Sports Banger ’92 t-shirts, you get a tub of dual-branded wet look ’92 hair gel — the gunk that created crispy barnets in schools, clubs and pubs 22 years ago. You can almost smell the Davidoff Cool Water, skunk and Marlboro Lights in the air.

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For anyone that moans about Gildan tees on marked up shirts not being removed (and anyone who bought street or skate wear back in the early 1990s can testify that a Hanes, Camber or Champion label left in was commonplace on the output from some of the greatest brands of the time), this Gildan one is a perfect middle-finger:

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JAMES

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I’m already thinking about resolutions for early 2015. One is to drag the look of this blog and the clumsy URL out of 2009 and the other is to chuck more interviews up here. This site probably wouldn’t be here without Mo’ Wax’s influence and, seeing as I chucked up some Converse press bits a few weeks back (and discussed the MW bulletin board a couple of years ago), here’s a longer version of a chat with James Lavelle on the subject of shoes for the build-up to the Nike project that dropped today. He was very gracious with his time and particularly talkative on the subject of collaborations, answering a few questions I’ve always wanted to ask. That Mo’ Wax Manga project was a significant opportunity missed.

How did the Converse project begin?

JAMES: Once the book started and was on social media right at the beginning, there were a couple of interviews right at the start of the book and it started this wave of re-interest with Mo’ Wax and I wanted to do a series of collaborations around the Mo’ Wax thing, with people who we’d worked with in the past — we did a few things with Bathing Ape again and there’s other collaborations coming as well from people we worked with in Japan. For some reason it came through that Converse would potentially be interested in doing something and I know Ian [Ginoza] from DJing back in the day and I’d done some work with him back in Asia when he was there. We met up in New York when I was there at the end of last year and we talked about doing a possible collaboration that would be a friends and family type project.

Did you pick the Jack Purcell?

To be honest with you, the sneakers that I wear the most are Jack Purcells now. So I was quite keen to be able to work with Converse as a contemporary thing, representing me as a person right now. I buy Converse — it’s the sort of thing I wear and it’s generally a Jack Purcell. I designed it with them basically and the detail was really, really important. Just new ways and new technologies and things that hadn’t necessarily been down before — the idea was to create something that had the Mo’ Wax feel. I really wanted to create a shoe that would stand out as a shoe in its own right and wasn’t gimmicky or over the top and garish. It would fit in with where I was at now and not necessarily where I was at 15 years ago, do you know what I mean? It was with me and Matt [Sleep]. Ian facilitated it and has been very open, like, “Do what you wanna do!”

To be honest, there wasn’t much compromise with what we did. The idea was to take something that was iconic from Mo’ Wax, so the camouflage — it’s a recurring theme in a lot of elements of what we’ve used recently. It’s on the book, it’s on the Nike sneaker, it’s in the Nike garms, it’s on a lot of other collaborations — all these other things, like the Medicom. It’s not a graphic design thing — it has a pattern quality to it. It has something that, in its own right — away from Mo’ Wax — is an interesting image. I didn’t want to do anything where it felt like we were printing images, like when we did the DUNKLE and it was really garish, with lots going on. How can we get the design aesthetic into something really subtle? And with the mids, it was just self-indulgent for me because I really wanted to do something with stingray or something that had an interesting fabric to it. We talked through lots of ideas and I’d just seen the Margiela shoe and was quite jealous of that, with it being such a great idea. They were very much against repeating anything that might have been done in the past or something that was too similar to something that was going on, because I’d suggested about something that involved painting shoes — then I saw the Margiela and was like, “Oh fuck, that one’s done.” So what was interesting with that was keeping subtle themes going, like having Mo’ Wax on the sole of the feet or on the tips of the laces or on the insole or on the little strip on the back — there’s this sort of Mo’ Wax touch. But the stingray was just to try and apply something that would hopefully look pretty cool.

Stingray always looks good — I’ve seen real stingray used on a New Balance before.

The only compromise was that I couldn’t use the real thing. There’s laws about exotic materials. But actually, how it came out was pretty cool because it has a weird, unique feel to it.

Collaboration culture really seems to have become a business model now rather an organic act or logical progression. Do you keep up with the current state of collaborations?

No, I’m pretty out of that world now. I don’t pay masses of attention. Because what I was doing back then was about being part of the culture and reacting to that environment. Once it became a business it changed. I mean, collaborations have been going on forever — it’s the nature of the collaborations that changed and the way that certain companies that were unapproachable that you’ve grown up with, that I’ve grown up with — Nike sneakers, Medicom toys, Major Force…all of these things that, when I was a kid, were the things that you collected and the things that you never dream that you’d ever be able to be a part of, were suddenly something that you had access to. And as those things became cool — most people forget that a lot of the things I did at the time did not do very well, because people weren’t very interested in buying the toys, and they weren’t very interested in buying all the stuff and that’s one of the reasons that Mo’ Wax isn’t around any more — and they were in very, very small circles, because there wasn’t the internet involved back then, so things weren’t like they are. You couldn’t see Japan in that way — you had to go there.

So there was sort of a mythology and there was something very much about a united group of people around the world that were collaborating together and also getting to collaborate on the things that they’d admired or grown up on, so Nike was involved. And in many ways, Nike was the beginning of that, because Nike was a commercial brand. It was adidas and Nike, with Nigo doing Bathing Ape and adidas and Nike doing things like the Dunk and other collaborations with Futura and Stash — they were the first time that companies like that were doing fashion-based collaborations or music-based collaborations generally. Nike never did that before and adidas had a bit of history. And once it opened up, it just became the norm that everybody and every company had a Bearbrick, from Chanel to Gucci. Everything becomes a limited edition, you know? From Top Shop to whatever. It’s just a way of marketing things now, more than anything else. It wasn’t really about marketing back in the day — it wasn’t thought out. It was based around a small community of people.

There seemed to be a lot of collaborations that never dropped with Mo’ Wax. There was a Vans that never dropped, plus a mooted Clarks collaboration.

Yeah. There were so many things I tried to do. You see things in the book like the 3D toy and Vans stuff. Then the LEGO. There was the Glen Friedman poster. There was a lot of stuff that we tried to do — a lot of records and a lot of people that we were going to work with that never happened and to was pre-internet and it was a pretty mad, young hedonistic, lunatics taking over the asylum kind of time, you now? So you’d meet somebody that wanted to do something at a company and maybe by the time you got so far, they would have left, or the company closed down or moved on. There was Manga film — was talking to Manga for a year about making a movie. I was talking to a games company for a while about a game. There was endless stuff that never came out — there was almost more of that than the stuff that came out.

Mo’ Wax never really seemed to end for me — I only called off the search on the Friedman poster five years ago. I forget how young you were then — it makes me feel lazy.

I dunno man. It’s hard to look at yourself then. It was a long time ago and I was a different person really. I think one of the fundamental things was that I was very young but so were many of the people who were the fabric of the label — Shadow, Ben, Will, Charlie — everybody was young. Most music that you hear now that’s big is from young people, whether it’s the XX or Young Turks. There’s always that spark in music that creates a lot of people who are successful. With design and art it’s happened more in the last twenty years because of the nature of information and how we look at things. But back in the day, if you were a designer or whatever, it was just before Lee McQueen and that new generation. Most people would work in that world honing their skills for a long time so you know? Your image was based around older, more successful designers and people that had quite a long history of learning their craft.

With the whole friends and family nature of the Converse project it feels like a celebration — has the Southbank project and book allowed you to just back at what you did in a fonder way and see the influence?

It’s funny. I was with Michèle Lamy, who’s Rick Owens’ wife, at Meltdown. It was mad seeing her read the book because she was just fascinated and she said, “Oh, I thought Kanye and Pharrell invented all this — I can’t believe this is 10 years earlier!” So in that way, it’s great. It’s a mixed emotional experience for me because there’s a lot of regret and emotional history and time but there’s also a lot of joy and it’s been really good working with Ben — and that’s been a very consistent relationship — and how we went through it and achieved that process. It’s great that sort of came together and Meltdown came together and could be celebrated in that way and the opening of the exhibition was a very wonderful evening. Going back to your last question, it’s about that environment you’re in as well. Mo’ Wax was a product of its environment and that success was when the environment was really thriving and there was an amazing amount of imagination and creativity, you know? And so looking at this room and seeing all these people that were there…also, a lot of these people at that period in time had a lot of politics. Part of what I did was bring people together who wouldn’t necessarily work together, so we were trying to weave around the politics to achieve something. So that made it quite difficult and quite volatile at times — seeing all these people in one room, and some hadn’t spoken in 10 or 15 years, or fallen out, and them leaving that behind was very joyous. I think, by being in a public space like the Southbank, we all just looked at ourselves and went, “Oh fuck! We’re all part of this.” That was an amazing time and how brilliant it is that it’s being celebrated.

The record as a tangible, beautifully packaged thing seems like a thing of the past now.

It was an amazing time, but you’re young and your priorities are different. There was an infrastructure and there were successes. There was just this will to create and to do — we did a lot of stuff. It was a different time. In many ways the internet has changed a lot of how creativity works — some for the good and some for the bad. With record labels it totally changed because of the fact that there’s free digital records. People would buy records and there was money to spend on making them because they had an economic value. There are still a lot of interesting, creative labels that do unique things — I think that it’s more boutique now. Mo’ Wax was actually quite successful and well-known — it was a successful brand in that we were selling a million Shadow records and we weren’t selling 500 limited edition 180-gram, hand printed records.

As far as the relationship between Nike and Mo’ Wax, how did that begin? I recall a CD back in early 1997…

Yeah, yeah, the running thing that we did. That was weird. I can’t remember what the hell was going on there — that was a really strange project that was. It really did not connect — I wouldn’t connect the dots between that project and creating a sneaker. To be honest with you, that Nike project, and if my memory serves me right because it was a fucking long time ago, it was done through a marketing company — an ad agency. We were always interested in doing things like that — I think the mad thing with that was that it had to be all new music and there couldn’t be any samples. That’s why it ended up being Richard File and Ils doing it.

How did the real Nike relationship begin?

At the beginning we all went out for dinner with Sandy [Bodecker], Mark [Parker] and various others — it was me, Michael Kopelman, Fraser, Giorgio and the guys from Nike. I remember that I had to leave very quickly because I was going to a Queens of the Stone Age gig. I was like, “Hi, nice to meet you!” And they were like, “What would you do?” and I just said, “An UNKLE shoe or something like that…” and it just seemed to happen. So Fraser and I met them at the same time —he wasn’t working with Nike then. Fraser was at Footpatrol then — that’s when the collaborations with them started.

So how did the new project come about?

I spoke to Fraser and spoke about the book and originally asked if we could reissue or do something with the Dunk — I was put in contact with SB and for some reason we didn’t connect. I was meant to have a meeting with some guy and that never happened. Then Fraser asked if I wanted to do something with him and he asked me if I liked the Blazer. I really like the Blazer — I like what Supreme have done with the Blazer. And he showed me the Destroyer jacket and we went from there. And with that collaboration, what I really wanted to do was not use too much of the old graphics.There’s camo in part of the shoe design but it’s done subtly. There’s inner-linings and embossing again. I like repeat graphic patterns — buying into that and repeating imagery in a classic sort of Warhol-esque way. So the Converse and Nike are linked but they don’t look the same — there’s recurring theme and the history’s there. There’s a bit of Ben and there’s a bit of me and a bit of Futura — a bit of Mo’ Wax in general. But the thing with Gio is that when we looking at placing logos on the Destroyer that has patches and stuff, we found the original ideas garish and it wasn’t something that you would want to wear. While this is a Mo’ Wax collaboration, I want these to be wearable. things — I don’t just want it to be for Mo’ Wax people and I wanted to wear it myself, you know?

What’s the concept behind the Nike project?

What is it about Mo’ Wax that we’re trying to translate in a shoe? It’s this kind of sample culture idea of Mo’ Wax being part of this generation and why people made the records they did. It was this sample collage generation. We’re trying to look at how to use these elements and do something different. So I thought it would be good to take this idea of sample culture and collage and build and destroy and all of these words that were asserted with Mo’ Wax, because there was a lot of wording on Mo’ Wax records and were on the advertising — I took the classic titling like “Headz”, “sample culture”, “build and destroy” and “our past is your future” and asked Gio to basically write them out and because he also writes backwards, again it’s sort of something where it’s not in your face — it just becomes textual but there’s a historical and a wording concept to it — so yeah, it was just trying to play with how you how you make a record and apply that to something else. The whole thing with the shoe was that there’s lots of different fabrics so there’s it has this sample and collage feel to it.

How did you meet Gio? That’s a relationship that goes back a long way, right?

I met him 19 years ago. He did work on UNKLE stuff and Mo’ Wax stuff. There’s a toy with him that never came out that’s in the book. It’s a skateboarder toy of one of his characters. He is one of my closest, most dear, best, best friends. He’s like my brother. I have of some of his work that he did for me on my arm. When you’re designing the thing I want a certain amount of connection to what we’re doing so it connects you in a way that’s subtle and justifies the work to me by giving it context.

Is the orange lining an MA-1 reference?

Yes. It’s very classic of that era.

Were you a big Blazer fan when it came to that model? You mentioned the Supreme collaboration but it also stretches back to the Glen Friedman images of Tony Alva wearing a pair. It has subcultural relevance.

Yeah. I’ve worn Blazers back in the day — I’m a fan and a I really liked what Supreme had done and I liked it because it was classic. I didn’t want a new tech shoe. I wanted something that I’d wear. I’d do a Dunk because it reflects the time or an Air Force 1 because those were the trainers that we generally wore but I wouldn’t really wear them now so I wanted something a bit more subtle. Build and Destroy repeats on both the Nike and Converse so there’s little links.

Do you follow the build and destroy ethos to some degree?

It was just something that me and Shadow used to talk about a lot when making records. Make something and build it up then move onto something new. It was always about trying to be new — it’s not about being negative.

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FEDERER

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I interviewed Roger Federer about shoes (for another site) on the eve of the ATP World Tour Finals in London and the NikeLab launch of the Nike Zoom Vapor AJ3 mashup of two Tinker Hatfield designs. Remember when about five people seemed to know who Tinker was? Now he’s being name checked in campaigns by folks like Federer. I never expected to ever speak to this man, let alone talking to him about Jordan IIIs. This thing of ours has definitely leached into the mainstream and if it means meeting people as pleasant and charming as this guy (I can report that talk of Roger Federer being a class act doesn’t seem to be some kind of sponsor’s construct and I never interrupted him freaking out over room temperature or a brand of spring water — he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever interviewed), rather than some very surly people I’ve had to sit with who have a handful of minor hit records and not a single Grand Slam title to their name. Game, set and match to Federer over those fanboy dream shatterers.

Roger, how much wear testing and work went into creating this Jordan hybrid? I’ve seen projects that mix silhouettes before, but they’re generally for people who want to pose in them, rather than play in them. And when the white version of the Tour Vapor 9 Jordan III debuted, you were playing in front of thousands.

ROGER: Absolutely. With the outfits that we wear, it can be design rather than performance but with a shoe I think you can’t compromise. It has to work. The Vapor that I’ve been playing in was the base and then Jordan came in with its design — I still had to wear test a little bit. I had a covered shoe so it wouldn’t show anything, like the cars, you know? I’d go on a road trip and have the other players looking at me like, “What are you doing?” And I had to say, “It’s the shoe I’m going to be wearing in a few days!” I wore this new one for practise and I was always hoping that no pictures would get out, but it was quiet. So I know that this one works. The only difference I did have is that usually during the year I have a lot of mesh on the shoe, but during the clay court season I have leather on top too so the clay doesn’t go through to the socks. I really like playing in leather shoes and I like the look and feel of it, so from that standpoint I didn’t have to wear test a whole lot. It’s just important that the Vapor in general is a great shoe, which it has become though Tinker, who also designed the Jordan shoe. He knows both shoes well.

Tinker must know all about your feet from designing the Vapor 9.

He does know my feet and I have a custom-made mould. If you look at my feet, mine are a bit wider. So it’s very much there — he knows both of us, so it’s very cool that the three of us can do a collaboration.

The sheer wear and tear that tennis puts a shoe though is intense — especially when a game goes on for hours and hours. Is that tough to preempt?

Actually the way I move, I don’t rip through shoes so much — thankfully. But I know some guys who go through one pair of shoes a match almost, which I find very hard to comprehend. Players like Novak who slide tear through shoes — if you slide on the hard courts that really tears the shoe apart, but the way I move is quite smooth actually, so I usually go through two pairs per tournament, plus all the practises and all that. And still they look decent on the foot at the front and on the side they get a bit used. What’s important for me is that I feel that they’re agile and they’re quick and responsive, you know? I need to feel like I’m low to the ground and that I really do not twist my ankle — that is the biggest fear for a tennis player. I’ve only had that once and it was on a crazy court back in 2005. So if you think about it and how many hours I’ve spent on a court, I’ve actually been very lucky.

Does the parallel between you and Michael Jordan put a lot of extra pressure on you? You seemed excited to meet him in the Nike video from a few months back.

I was definitely happy to meet him. It was my hero next to me — it was a bit odd but I was trying to be cool with it! I was very excited when I was told I should wear it at the Open and in the first match and not only was I going to wear it, he was going to come and watch. So I was like, “Ohhh! Okay, don’t get injured!” I was actually cool about it until, like, the day of the match. I was playing night sessions so had a long time to think about it and the more the match approached I was telling myself, “I can’t lose this match!” So I went into it, like, “Whatever you do, don’t lose!” [Laughter.] I actually got very nervous that day and it was not a great feeling to have, but I was happy that Michael was at the match, the crowd was good and happy to see Michael and I’m glad that I did win in the shoe for the first time, but like you said, I did feel that pressure — I did feel something in the stadium and every time I was serving I saw this shoe like, “Whoa!” I ended up playing a second and third time in the shoe during the Open which was easier.

I get the impression that you’re very happy with the Zoom Vapor 9 design, it’s two years old now — do you find that being happy with a shoe is like being happy with a racket and does that make you resistant to big changes?

I’m more flexible than Pete Sampras was. I mean Pete Sampras didn’t want to change much equipment. You have to be careful though— we’re working on things right now. With the Jordan version, we had every Jordan ever made out and Tinker and Jordan Brand told me to choose the one I prefer the most — the one that makes you feel the best and play the best. I chose the III and they were very happy that I chose it. I didn’t know which one I liked better — black or white. White is more tennis.

Black is a fan favourite though.

I think so too. I didn’t expect the black one to come out later on. Then the Jordan group said, “How about black?” And that one’s cool too, but I was like, “Where and how?” So that’s where the idea came to wear it in the World Tour finals.

Were several different Jordan models shown to you on the Vapor platform?

No, they did it and showed it to me and said, “Do you like it?” And I did like it. I really let them do it, because the way they were going to do it would be something that I liked. Do you like a white or a grey tongue?

Grey is the best. The toe down view on the Jordan III is very visually appealing. You mentioned feeling good when you wear certain clothing or shoes — what you’ve worn has been a discussion point before. Jordan was a master of psychological warfare on the court — is your appearance part of your game plan?

It’s more for me — it’s for me rather than the opponent. The better you feel, the better you play. When I walked out in the suit at Wimbledon or in the Jordan shoe, those were iconic moments by tennis standards and they are big, you know? We’re very fortunate in tennis because I get to change my outfit around ten times a year and so I get a lot of changes because I work with Nike so closely with the design team, I always know what’s coming and I must say, it’s very cool being part of that process to look and feel good.

Growing up, there seemed to be a lot of tennis shoes worn as a fashion statement, like McEnroe’s Nike shoes. After Agassi and the Tech Challenges, your generation came through with a fast and powerful game — shoes had to be tougher and heavier so they couldn’t be worn so easily as a fashion statement…

Yeah, they had to become tougher. Agassi’s generation really started that with shoes becoming more bulky. I remember that.

When you were working on the Zoom Vapor 9, did you have a vision that maybe people could wear that one beyond the court too?

That was the idea with the Vapor, because the way that we can design the Vapor together with Tinker and the looks definitely gives it street-wear potential. And with the Jordan thing we’re going into it with the references to hi-tops and basketball shoes that are very, very fashionable right now. I think the black one is something I’ll wear on the street. White is a colour that really seems to be becoming stronger on shoes, but black is more toned down. On the court I might be wearing white, but away from the court I like something darker — it’s not so visible. It definitely has that potential.

EXHIBITION

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I’ve been obsessed with basketball shoes since I was a kid, despite being completely incompetent on a court. I spent hours staring at new additions to Champion and Olympus Sports, but I assumed I might grow out of it — I certainly never expected Nike to ever come calling to contribute to a project based around them. Over the last couple of years I’ve had the privilege of doing just that. To coincide with the Basketball World Cup in Spain I got to work with London’s own Magdi Fernandes, Nike and the kind contribution of some serious collectors to create an exhibition that, selfishly, featured some of my favourite shoes ever. Taken down from a collection of 240+ shoes and after making those emails cry, we took it down to 86 shoes to coincide with the whole Search for the Baddest/Come out in Force campaign in Madrid. Nike and Rosie Lees created six custom cabinets (here’s a better shot of one) to deliver an overview of Nike Basketball, Air Force and Air Jordan from 1972 to the present day. Getting the Franchise, Air Force STS, Alpha Force Low and the 1996 Python AF1 alongside the crowdpleasers in there was indulgence on my part, but there just aren’t enough exhibitions with those things in them these days. I don’t think this one is going to go on tour, so I’ll hunt some more professional shots, but in the meantime, here’s some hastily shot iPhone snaps of some of my favourite shoes. Shouts to Nike for getting me involved.

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COMPLEX

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Huaraches have been ruined by appalling colourways and weird shapes, plus the fact they’ve been rereleased in one of the least imaginative periods in recent history. But not everybody shares that opinion. In fact, the shoes offer almost Jordan levels of traffic if you’re looking for click bait. My friends at Complex asked me to write a brief history of the shoe (excluding the pre-release situation when the shoe was scrapped) in the UK. That’s a good excuse to put that murky, lo-fi photo of the best way I ever saw the shoe worn (sans laces too) from The Face back in 1991 back up here. No time to do much of any substance on this blog today, so head over there if you want something a little longer. This nation did the shoe thing better than anyone else back in 2000. Now? Not so much.

ROBIN IN GORE-TEX

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Twitter is swarming with links to Robin Williams tributes, and with good reason — the handful of people I know who met him found him to be a class act and it’s a testament to his versatility that while I never found his standup particularly side-splitting, he was one of the ultimate actors when the script was right, as was the case with Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King and Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad. Williams was a man with an inclination toward some of the brands and cultures discussed here — FTC (his local spot), Slam City and Supreme were all apparently regular haunts and the BAPE and Viotech combo has become a message board staple.

Some ill-informed characters would jeer at that gaudy combo a few years back and discuss it as if it was the death knell for those brands, but the fact is, Williams was most likely on it before it hit the radar of a new breed of cynics. Williams was even up on Acronym, picking up pieces from San Fran’s Darkside Initiative store. He was up on Raf Simons shoes back in 2009 too. Now, if a semi celebrity wears some easy-to-find Jordan IIIs, the internet starts quaking — back in the mid 2000s, this was unique. Between that , the video game obsession and Questlove’s tale of an encounter that indicates that he might have been a hip-hop fanatic too. There’s too many layers and degrees of separation to even begin to dissect here, but his loss is a tragedy.

In these situations, I clocked a few of the social media voices of unreason complaining that we mourn celebrities more than we do victims en masse in a war zone — that’s because it’s tough to fully grieve when there’s no face to put to the deceased and, given his admirable work ethic, Williams’ mug was a familiar sight. The sad reality for the complainers is that some poor kid thousands of miles away that strayed onto a landmine wasn’t in Fast & Furious 6 or Jumanji. It’s human nature. Are the going to start picketing our uncles’ funerals next because we’re not getting angry enough about Syria? Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt We’ve been given the emotional depth to be upset about both things.

But anyway, forget all the sentiment — the image above from 1990 (jacked from Getty and the LIFE archives), around the Cadillac Man era in Williams’ career, wearing the GORE-TEX North Face TransAntarctica coat indicates that, long before he got himself an Acronym, he understood the power of great outerwear. Robin Williams was unique on every level and he was doing the brands long before the blogs too.

If you never got a copy of the Nike Genealogy of Innovation book from the project I worked on and your browser is too weedy to look at the website, here’s a video that the good people of Golden Wolf put together that animates 200 Nike shoes from 1972 to 2014 in chronological order. Crazy that the lists I was writing in iPhone Notes during a train journey ended up looking like this — it looks like the inside of my mind.

VAGABONDS

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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.

NAUGHTY

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(Image by Ernie Paniccioli from Free Stylin’)

Watching Onyx carry on during The Breakfast Club as if the last 21 years never happened, with Envy’s important question about them firing blanks during their Source Award appearance cut off by some haggard mad facing reminded me of how much I wanted an Onyx hockey shirt or black denim jacket back then— I never saw the official Slammin’ Gear versions of the quilted vest in the UK. While April Walker’s contribution to the industry is well-documented, I feel that it should always be reiterated whenever possible — we all know about Walker Wear (whose hoodies seemed more minimal than anything else on the hip-hop brand side of things) which was on the back of any thug rapper of influence, back when a giant mustard waistcoat with fireman jacket fastenings was a thing. The Walker Wear logo was incredibly effective on chests and heads and her connections got it everywhere, but Angela Hunte-Wisner’s styling work from the same era was incredible too — she was key to putting Starter and Nike on in Another Bad Creation, R Kelly and LL Cool J album covers and videos, but her decision to put Jodeci in Hi-Tec Magnum boots (possibly the only legit moment in Hi-Tec’s history) was pioneering in bringing rugged looks to R&B. April Walker also designed Onyx’s mad face logo — this piece from last year is still essential.

Naughty By Nature always seemed to have the best rap merchandise pre Wu-Wear (bar Public Enemy, NWA, Run-DMC or those Sleeping Bag jackets that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars that were advertised in the EPMD sleeve) and for reasons unknown, I was preoccupied with getting some Naughty Gear denim in 1994. Treach, Vinnie and Kay Gee set the brand off in 1993 and opened a store in Newark, New Jersey the following year. Building on the “Down with O.P.P” tee and Naughty by Nature underwear, plus a knack for merchandising since the New Style era (the connection to master merchandisers Tommy Boy probably didn’t hurt either), given Treach’s patronage of Walker Wear, I’m certain April Walker played a role. This piece from Yo! MTV Raps back in 1995 (recorded in bad quality but essential nonetheless) showcases the store as well as a trip to a hardware store to get chains, plus a Timberland mission too. In that video, Vinnie reveals that Naughty Gear jeans were made by Ruff Era, a frequent advertiser in The Source, who sold stiff, voluminous jeans. Savvy choices of collaborator and Vinnie’s decision to build the brand beyond just local screen printing paid off, but when the band started beefing in the late 1990s when urban wear really started popping, their licensing deals to make Naughty Gear, Inc. more profitable suffered. I’m not saying Naughty Gear was classic, but Naughty By Nature’s visual identity very smart indeed. Now Naughty Gear looks a little more basic.

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South Beach colours on a Wildwood should be the worst thing ever, but these impending versions are decent. Still the greatest all-round All Conditions Gear shoe of all-time — the mystery of why this Pegasus remix existed around the time that the Pegasus ACG and Pegasus A/T were sold remains, but this always seemed closer to Escape spirit.