I hoard books on certain subjects. Inevitably, I’ve amassed an amount of sportswear-related publications that’s a little embarrassing. Being a nerd when it comes to that subject I’d found myself discussing the lack of a solid tome on the subject of Reebok. After all, the brand that Joseph William Foster created was one that led during a lion’s share of the 1980s, and its cross trainers and basketball shoes circa 1987 were expensive status symbols that pushed me into the industry I’m in right now. Having missed out on the recent London Reebok exhibition, I assumed I missed out on something decent, but the brand book they put together with Tangent Design is excellent. Discussing everything that makes the brand interesting, I haven’t seen a lot of coverage on this part of the project, so I expected it to be underwhelming, but at 206 pages, it’s a good accompaniment to the vast 2012 adidas book (a serious precedent, that like this one, seemed to be strictly promo-only) and necessary if you geek out over old stuff and obscure logos. I’m jealous that I never wrote the ‘FOR THE MOTIONALLY UNSTABLE…‘ ad too. I’ve never necessarily associated Reebok with blue suede, but it makes for a nice cover fabric too. I’m guessing that, as is the case with several similar projects, image rights, names and all the other stuff that can slow a project down, means that this one is destined to be strictly promo. That means that there’s a decent book for all the key brands out there now, though I’d happily pay for a 300+ page history of Troop’s rise and rumour-led fall.
Still no proper update right now, but if you’re not suffering from Visible Air fatigue, there’s a shit ton of nerdery over here for your viewing pleasure and it might be more appreciated by the audience here than over there. Nowadays, marketing wants to rise above the shabby glory of the efforts above and below but somehow falls short of these thirty-second masterpieces. I like to watch these things to remind me why I like shoes when I’m suffering from the fatigue of PR people and communication folks taking the easy way out with everything and feigning love for product.That Sneaker Corner commercial from 1991 is tremendous (shouts to the uploader, wtcvidman) in its “Morrie” Kessler from Goodfellas style old-school salesman enthusiasm. It’s good to see that their Brooklyn spot is still standing — places like that are an endangered species. I’m not sure that Cal Stores are still open, but everything’s better when it has Oh Yeah by Yello on the soundtrack. I think Sneakers Plus in New Jersey is still going though. Salutes to the little guys — there are not enough of them or the grey importers around these days. Everyone sells the same stuff in exactly the same way. At least these folks made an effort.
A lot of brands could benefit from walking before they run and while I always want to celebrate homegrown organisations here, I rarely get the sense that there’s anything behind the brand to differentiate it from the rest when I get emails about new lines. That’s because I’m still judging things by the standards that Gimme 5, maharishi and Slam City set (and there’s a whole book — or at least a booklet — to be written on Duffer’s contribution and legacy). Shouts to Trapstar, Grind London and Y’OH (currently on hiatus) for creating brands with a sense of substance and none of the thirst that deads a brand from the offset — every brand I ever loved as a kid didn’t even seem to want my business and that was appealing to me. it still appeals.
Personable, transparent, super-social, heavily PR’d wannabe Supremes miss the point of why Supreme built foundations that can sustain waves of hype that could kill a lesser brand — crucially they have a skate heritage. If you’re making streetwear for streetwear’s sake without any subculture at the core other than a quick blog buck from the slew of British sites who’ll post any old shit then you’d better be making the best tees, hats and sweats ever. Most aren’t. Having said that, the blokes behind brands like Hype are almost certainly richer than the people behind interesting product, so credibility as we knew it back in the day might be an archaic concept.
Palace is interesting in that it’s rooted in the same spirit as Slam City spinoffs like Silas (given the folks involved, it’s practically a sequel), but it seems to have hit multiple audiences without compromising, as that triangle is on nearly every moodboard and presentation I’ve seen in the last year in one way or another. Shouts to Gareth and Lev for that one — jaded old farts like me love what they’ve created and so does that lucrative 16-19 year old consumer that brands are baffled by right now. I still think that the handful of alpha kids who know have an innate understanding of whether a brand is begging it by trying to bamboozle them with Tumblr-sourced skulls and galaxy patterns or whether a brand — or the folks who run it — have a certain subcultural provenance. Maybe I’m deluded.
To see Palace rise from a collective putting out book reviews, tees and clips to something that brands —from high street to high-end lines — want a bit of in a few years is phenomenal. If Relax ran the classic (shouts to Mr. Chris Law) October 2002 Slam City feature now, that diagram (above) would probably only be slightly different (for starters, TONITE, Aries and Palace would be there). It’s unhealthy to live with two feet in he past, but I think it’s always good to get retrospective in order to understand why Slam is such an important part of our culture and it’s an institution that’s key to appreciating the importance of skateboarding as a central force in creating a market for daft printed tees in this grey climate of ours.
The Palace Christmas Pop-Off opens this Friday at 100 Shoreditch High Street (an address that seems to place it within the Ace Hotel space) and the flyer promises nothing but awesome things rather than just garms, hardware and shoes — “a new silver board that makes you skate faster”, “hyper-printing techniques” we haven’t seen before and bobble hats, plus the new Palace Reebok project are all going to be there. This will be popular.
Completing a week of being on the campaign trail, here’s a quick conversation between me and Hypebeast about a shoe. That’s the promo bit over and thank you to everybody who wrote nice things about that project. Now it’s done, we’re onto the next thing.
My dude Maxime Buchi has had the aesthetic of Sang Bleu jacked a few times in the last couple of years and nobody else is as qualified to peddle a curiously gothic, hip-hop, high-end clusterfuck as amicably as he can. Everyone’s on the skulls, Caravaggio, Jordans and black-on-black, but Mr. Buchi remains one of the few who manages to pull off the look without looking awkward. This is because that look is a perfect manifestation of his life’s work thus far. What he puts on paper and skin works just as well on cotton and after some dips into tees earlier this year, the SB London sweats and tees tie in with the London studio. If you’re gonna buy apparel with gothic typefaces and moody graphic design, go Sang Bleu rather than any toy post-Givenchy hype startups — Maxime contributed to Damir Doma, Balenciaga, Mugler and Rick Owens’ branding, plus he put Rick Genest on. You might have seen Kanye West clutching a copy of Sang Bleu recently too, so when Mr. West breaks out some SB clothing, all you Damir-come-lately types are going to hop on board. Plus it’s tattoo-related clothing that doesn’t look like Afflication and that’s something to celebrate — I’m glad to see one of the architects of a look is putting something out there.
Following on from the recent love letter to Oshman’s on here, Mr. Glenn Kitson kindly grabbed me the greatest socks ever on a holiday to Tokyo. Unnecessary, excellent packaging and all the details that make things from Japan inexplicably desirable makes these the antithesis of those three-packs for £5 they used to shift at Sports Direct.
(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.
Stüssy let me write some things for Stüssy Biannual Volume 2 on the subject of an unused London photoshoot, theTribe’s meeting in Tokyo and Slam City Skates. i don’t know who’ll be holding it in the UK, but it looks pretty good. The impact of the brand on me back in the 1988-1992 era was vast, so it was fun to get involved and ask Michael Kopelman and Gareth Skewis — two people I look up to — some questions.
The sheer volume of collaborations out there on the sports footwear front will lead to an implosion that sends everyone scattering for their Aldens and moc-toed Red Wings. I’m giving it 15 months. Trainers haven’t been the domain of the cool kid for a while — it’s all shoe fetes and video recaps at the moment, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. I like the Reebok GL 6000 a lot, because it was one of the top-tier real runners back in 1986 alongside the LX 8500 and DL 5600 (I never understood why there was a 5600 in the range for basketball and running). The key to its appeal was the amount of technology in the shoe (extra densities, the forefoot fastenings, a Goodyear Indy 500 outole), but the lack of silly stuff that dates it made it pleasantly restrained too. After a crap early 2000s reissue, the 2009 retro and recent big letter reissue have done it justice, but nobody seems to be paying it any mind — it deserves better. Oshman’s in Tokyo — that curious export of a defunct American sports shop — is a place I’d like to be my final resting place. In fact, if they threw their Champion inventory into the vault or coffin, I’d happily be buried alive there. Because the Harajuku store opened in 1985, they’ve created a super-subtle Reebok collaboration that adds some green to a grey upper, with gold stitching at the heel for a harmonious look that avoids the silly stuff. Less can be more if the partner has a history or deeper appreciation of the subject matter.
I’ve never wanted any Marc Eckō apparel in my lifetime, but I wanted the tapes and the MC Serch clock. However, for creating Complex he gets my highest respect — the scale of the Eckō empire is ambitious and his book Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out is an interesting read in its breakdown of his life story, some lessons from the rag trade and an explanation from that period where he made some particularly douchey-looking public appearances (a mixture of marketing savvy and rich guy existential crisis). The best piece of wisdom is this one (worth throwing out there when someone says your product is shit):
On that subject, my friends at the Reference Council interviewed me and let me break down the criminal-concept behind my own Reebok shoe.
If you’re looking for anything longer than a few paragraphs tonight, go look at this piece on Hypebeast instead (if you’re a Jordan/LeBron signature series fan). I think I forgot to mention that the NBA seemed to be a far more brutal place in 1990, where MJ would have to face bruisers like Charles Oakley and Bill Laimbeer — I’m not sure if LJ could flourish in that climate. That proven ability in a more extreme incarnation of the league gives his franchise extra value.
I think our Reebok Shoe drops in a couple of weeks. Shouts to Reebok for letting me put a prison and borstal theme (it’s envisioned as some kind of standard issue footwear in a jail from a parallel universe where sportswear brands vie for shoe contracts*) on a Reebok Classic to let me homage the shoe’s less salubrious past in the UK and overseas. I apologise in advance for it hitting the £100+ mark too (I think that’s what it retails at) — I wanted amazing leather and a custom stitched canvas material and forgot that they both cost more, which can happen when you’re given full run of the factory fabrics creatively. There’s stories to it (more on that next month) but I’ll be damned if I’m giving it a nickname. I like this prison arrow intersection at the front a lot though.
Visiting the Black Market Clash exhibition earlier this week, seeing Paul Simonon’s broken bass from the London Calling cover was cool, but the tiger stripe camo shirts (among other military gear from the Combat Rock period of the band’s history) was a personal highlight. The Sandinista and Combat Rock era was a great little subcultural intersection — between Futura, that camouflage picture disc and Strummer onstage with the Travis Bickle inspired hairdo and tiger pattern in 1982, a lot of my favourite things converged right there. And that’s before we even discuss the great music or the hours I’ve spent trying to make myself enjoy Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell. The Clash were the best dressed band of all time and it’s good to see that Mick Jones and co can still dress, rather than degenerating into picture postcard punks with receding temples. The Google Play videos on that period are interesting too.
*I just made that up.
First things first, this Kickstarter Graffiti Rock 30th anniversary project is something worthy of support. Secondly, I’m tired so my usual verbal diarrhea got constipated by blurry vision and a mild headache. Over the last year I’ve run some pieces on the pre-blog online era of sports footwear, so here’s a couple more artifacts of the era — Computerworld‘s May 1997 review of the big sports brands and their web presences, plus a 1996 syndicated U.S. newspaper piece on vintage shoe sellers and the rise in price on deadstock gems. This is a snapshot of two realms that evolved spectacularly over the last 16 years. adidas had Shockwave games, but Nike’s WAV and GIF files get points here. Nike finishes last on content though — things done changed. Now, in a world where you have to be on point with social media and at least feign some notion of a strategy where you make people #get #involved #with #stuff and tell them how cool stuff is all enthusiastically. Nobody knew what the hell was going on back then, but at least you didn’t have to deal with content managers and digital marketeers back then.
This week I was fairly excited to see Questlove enthusiastically Tweeting about the Complex piece on films and shoes that I wrote last year and was pretty pleased with, despite a muted response. At the same time I put that together, I started drafting a top TV moments list, but I got rid of it, because for all my ‘Seinfeld’ love, my favourite TV and trainer moments are a little more localised, and they’d just make people agitated. While kids are queuing and getting angry with each other on YouTube over sports footwear in 2012, back in the early 1990s, as prices rocketed and technology got increasingly stupid, there were a spate of footwear plots on shows that were big in the UK, On the more populist front, I like the fact the Assassin shoe in the 1991 ‘Simpsons’ episode (with a fictional price tag of $125) that key influencer Ned Flanders inspires Homer into buying. I especially like the way it evokes the impending Yeezy 2 in its shape and applications. Neddy was ahead of the curve. But that doesn’t touch two rarely discussed storylines that worked in the deadly serious subject of basketball shoe theft on BBC1 during the 5pm to 6pm slot via ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours.’
In winter 1990, a scriptwriter on the other side of the world got bored and began concocting a footwear-themed plot, that was transmitted on UK TV in December 1991, a year after it screened in Australia, making it out-of-date straight away. The May 1990 ‘Sneakers or Your Life’ story from ‘Sports Illustrated’ indicated a Stateside spate of shoe crimes, but, as proof of the epidemic nature of both crime and fashion, it reached sleepy Erinsborough too. Commencing with the show’s resident moody teen, Todd Landers (played by Kristian Schmid who I last saw leading a party on Sydney Harbour Bridge as an instructor, but has apparently had a TV comeback), flossing with his new shoes at Daphne’s to impress the girls and crowing on about their $190 price tag, despite them being a pair of Hi-Tec monstrosities that would barely sell for more than £30 UK pounds at the time to the unfortunates with parents who wouldn’t heed their warnings of playground mockery.
In Erinsborough, basketball boots are called ‘runners” just as we Brits call any form of sports footwear a “trainer” and a bruised and battered Todd has to explain to Helen and Jim that he was robbed for his kicks by local goons and that he’s practising kung-fu in order to settle the score. You know you’re in the sticks when kids are robbing Hi-Tecs. A couple of episodes later, he and his buddy Josh attempt an entrapment and retaliation by borrowing Paul Robinson’s adidas Torsions (they look like Bank Shots — Stefan Dennis, the actor who played Paul rocked an assortment of expensive late 1980’s adidas during his brief, terrible singing career, including the astronomically costly ‘Best of Times’ leather jacket) that are a couple of sizes too big and using Josh as bully bait. As Todd and Josh approach a young thug on a BMX who, with his snapback perched atop his hair instead of over it, earrings and rucksack is a proto Streetwear Dave, he’s flanked by some goons who offer the threat, “I’ll give you a choice. Either I punch your head in, or you give me your treads.” Vicked. Josh loses a loose shoe during the scuffle, much to the fury of Paul, who purports to have paid $300 for those runners. It’s a deep plot indeed. There’s little more action after that, with the outcome serving as some kind of warning against shoe-related vigilantism.
This kid is rocking the Streetwear Dave look in late 1990
‘Grange Hill’ dropped some sports footwear knowledge during its 15th series in early 1992. For some reason, trainers were worked into pretty much the entire series, commencing with a young pupil amazing his fellow pupils so much with a pair of Jordan VIs, that they carry him into the class like a god and place him on the teacher’s desk to inspect their feet. For presumed legal reasons, the shoes are never referred to as Nike Jordans. Instead the kid crows about them being a brand called “Sportech” and that the shoes are $160 from the States and you can’t get them over here. He speaks enthusiastically of “roll bars” and “heel counters” on them but runs his mouth too much and gets them stolen from the changing rooms later that day. Loose lips sink ships bruv.
As a result, trainers are banned in Grange Hill, unless you’re a teacher, and a hapless character called Ray (played by an actor who I believe ended up DJing in my hometown for a while), wants to cop the same pair of shoes as the American temporary teacher who just started that term in an inexplicable bid to woo her by wearing women’s footwear. That leads to some outdoor sports store shots with Air Max 90s and Air Trainers in the mix, plus a couple of real brand names called out. Ray can’t afford any, so he’s inexplicably hoodwinked by a character called Maria, who goes into a sports shop and gawps at Reebok Twilight Zones before buying some sale stock from round the back and makes them into the worst custom shoes ever. I have little time for custom footwear, but these are especially bad. Somehow, via a sales pitch that they’re “exclusive” and “American” Ray buys them. Like a div. By the end of the series trainers are legalised in the Grange Hill halls again. Wasn’t this show about gritty real-life issues once upon a time?
Thank you YouTube for housing full episodes of the offending episodes too. Who sat and uploaded every ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours’? That’s commitment to the cause. Whether the current boom leaches into popular entertainment like that remains to be seen, but it’s worth mentioning that neither early 1990s plot was as excruciating as that AF1 storyline in ‘Entourage’ or a single second of ‘How to Make It In America’ but it harks back to a time when everybody beneath the age of 25 seemed to be utterly obsessed with footwear, not just the condensed band of weirdos you see today. I’m looking forward to a subplot in ‘Eastenders’ where one of the stage school newbies drafted in to play some kind of urban cartoon character sees pound signs over a box of fake Foamposites. Maybe those episodes will be as etched into the brain of the new generation of viewers as these episodes stuck with me, in all their heavy handed, poorly acted glory.
On a footwear note, the Honeyee piece ‘Good Shoes, Good Style’ showcases some good footwear, like Jun’s pair of Danner River Grippers. I wish every feature on that site had an English translation though — the Hiroshi and Kim Jones conversation looks particularly interesting, but the Flash nature of the pieces means I can’t even get my Babelfish on. Maybe I just need to learn Japanese.
A May bank holiday cleanup has unleashed the nostalgia again. E-retail is a soulless experience (though folks like Eastman Leather Clothing at least try) and physical retail seems to have gone the same way. Spaces sullied by synthesized aging, and hapless attempts at instant vintage are no fun. A white space, devoid of dust would beat these Bristol Downs League attempts at Ivy League any day. When the much-discussed J Crew* shifts a stack of yellowing Steinbeck novels for pricks to pretend to read at heavy markups, you know you’re in herbsville…it makes sense shifting ’50s editions, what with them being founded in 1983 and all, and some oak-laden Gant concept store with blog support shows what happens when dad-wear mania goes wrong, can we expect a Marlboro Classics push in the next few months?
The Polo-lite approach to stores is rapidly getting tired, and the expensive vintage collection in the corner rarely rings true. That makes the truly great physical retail experiences something to cherish. My personal favourite? San Francisco’s Harputs. Sadly, the Fillmore Street store, opened in the mid ’80s after the Oakland location closed (apparently that was where former sportswear salesman Turk Harput found a pile of deadstock in the late ’70s, traded his car and saw the potential to shift it) closed earlier this year. The archive is reportedly being kept safe somewhere.
If you’re surrounded by sports footwear samples on the regular, or suffered from exposure to some douche filming themselves opening a shoebox and chucking it on YouTube (“Ummm, I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s got red suede stripes…“), like me you’ll hate 80% of sneakers and despise the very notion of “sneaker culture” having grown beyond weary of the mediocrity that clings to sneaker fanaticism like piss stink on a drunkard. Thank fuck for Harputs. You can still go out your way and find rarities in ancient sport shops, but this was a store that organically brought that feel through a policy of hoarding and occasionally holding back. Stumbling past the parade of unfortunates babbling their way up and down the streets, with the Morganator and I taking Henry from Slam City and Gareth from Pointer along – themselves jaded by shoe overexposure, in 2008, we saw faith restored in minutes, as DJ and one of the heirs to the empire, Matt (Bootsy) Harput held it down, with a screen blasting old promo footage in the background, allowing a little wander around the fabled stockrooms. While the store’s rep is ostensibly adidas-centric – when Matt’s father Turk Harput opened it, it was a key brand that shits on any contrived concept store, we saw Converse, Nike, Reebok and Avia by the ton, with Matt naming his price – weirdo Escape editions and Ewings made in Europe knocked us sideways.
Stack upon stack of boxes and loose shoes piled in a way that mocks the kid glove deification of deadstock was a beautiful thing. A.R.C. imitating boutiques, with the globally homogenous, carefully spaced out seasonal top-tier packs will be the downfall of the industry – that and cornball Rapidshare rappers wearing whatever they’re seeded – this felt like the antidote. Matt naming an outrageously reasonable price on a pea green canvas pair of USA-made Jack Purcells (cheaper than J Crew’s pre-distressed versions) led to the purchase of what’s arguably the best pair in my ever-expanding pile of pleather, leather, gluemarks and mesh. Lest we get too ‘Free & Easy’ about them, these aren’t particularly old – maybe they’re early ’90s, but they could even be 2001 – bear in mind that the Lumberton factory, the last bastion of USA-made Converse closed that year. It doesn’t matter. They’re perfect. For financial rewards, and the James Dean look, you’d need the PF ‘Posture Foundation’ pre-Converse variations, but this pair is just a perfect shoe. As the icing on the cake, Matt ushered us to an empty premises next door, a former pizza parlour, still haunted by a doughy stench, filled with bags of garish sportswear – some terrible ski-style gear, but a spot of crack dealer Troop and some ACG tees in the mix – once again, we got an off-the-dome price on them.
Great memories. Another one bites the dust, but we’re promised a Harputs reopening in new premises for 2011. Shouts to Bootsy, and RIP Turk Harput, who passed away in August 2009. A retail pioneer, and founder of a store with the kind of atmosphere that can’t be bought.
No disrespect to Reebok, but they’ve got a habit of squandering past glories. When they relaunched the brilliantly-titled Weebok line circa. 2005, it wasn’t like it used to be. Despite a crappy 1990 Cabbage Patch Kids doll tie-in around 1990, they had some of the greatest baby sneakers of any brand. Harputs have a few online (the pictures below are taken from their site), and they look eerily similar to some grown-up size capsule collections trying to capture the 2010 zeitgeist. Hikers? Deck shoe styles? Damn Reebok. You really had it going on. It’s enough to make me broody.
*Apparently London’s getting a branch on Regent Street. Seen on message boards and heard whispered conspiratorially in an elevator.