Tag Archives: sneakers

THE GENUINE ARTICLE(S)

This blog commenced as an outlet for non-sneaker babble, but as time goes by, I find myself drifting in and out of obsession with pleather uppers and rubber soles. At present, I’m fiending for the J Crew New Balance 1400 and the Nike ACG Lunar Macleay. As in, really fiending for them—not finding myself attracted to the next best thing because the competition is so aesthetically displeasing, like 2:59am in a provincial nightclub. They will be mine. So consider this post a celebration of a purer approach to sports footwear.

Lately —and this is certainly no bad thing—I’ve spotted more and more loving tributes to sports shoes of old and a throwback to a more genteel time of footwear preoccupation. While there’s a part of my mind that wants to fill the information gaps on everything from my teenage years, I try to gag that voice for fear of slipping into regression. However, here was a point a short while back, when the shelves heaved with trainers self-consciously trying not to look like trainers and appalling hybrids. Brands were hopping aboard with “top-tier” collaboration “programmes” who just weren’t very credible the first time around. Everything seemed to implode. No wonder suede brogues made a reappearance in the most unlikely of sportswear-centric circles.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and some good bits and pieces seemed to drop without the ruinous gaggle of pre-release shit that makes us hate product before we’ve ever physically felt it. I maintain that the darkest moment for fanboys and girls was awareness of collector culture and an attempt to harness that love with colours and fabrics rather than innovation and brand-new product. It’s refreshing that even ‘INVENTORY’—that perfect-bound periodical clutched by the stern-faced neo-hype massive maintains a very strong sneaker page that’s a good continuation of h(y)r’s original online magazine output.

Just as camo is back (and while I’m not paying £65 for a Champion repro tee I need a Real McCoys Tiger print jacket), the sneaker seems to have made another of its cyclical returns, and the blog realm is currently reflecting this. Want to know why? Because sauntering around with a tote bag rocking a cardi and sensible shoes is something we’re destined to do in our twilight years.

Of course, we oldies need to smarten up, but I propose we delay the inevitable slide into utterly sensible for a short while to come and dig out the articles that weren’t too tainted by the cynicism that retrospective shoe slurry can fuel. Complete crap can fuel negativity as if it was biomass, so I propose you kick back and read Bobbito’s ‘Confessions of a Sneaker Addict’ from May 1991’s ‘The Source’—reading it now, it’s pretty basic, given the electronic access to information we’ve long been exposed to, but those AF1s with a gold swoosh are no joke. Listening to nearly five hours of Stretch and Bobbito’s reunion radio show makes getting reacquainted with one of the original collector articles courtesy of Kool Bob extra timely.

I just finished writing a piece that’s a hefty love letter to the greatest period for footwear for another source and my mind is aching, hence the brief length of this entry. As an extra bonus, I chucked in the ‘Mass Appeal’ adidas basketball article from spring 2002 too—it’s not as enlightening as the phenomenal ‘Three is the Magic Number’ adi history from issue three of ‘Grand Royal’ (watch this space), but I don’t care much for the brand’s non-basketball output, so some of the imagery is priceless.

A TIME BEFORE HYPE

This entry is part of an inadvertent trilogy. Sports footwear rarely crops up too heavily here (there’s other outlets for that), but having bemoaned the lack of release for Wieden+Kennedy’s ‘Sneakerhead’ documentary and the demise of San Francisco’s Harputs, how about a moment for a more innocent age of advertising, as America and Canada’s local papers hawked some shoes deemed classic nowadays in a variety of ways? Seeing as the inbox is trembling under the weight of any number of hastily cobbled together and cynically synthesised “virals,” there’s always time to look at some ’70s and ’80s artworking.

There’s a glorious lack of reverence for the subject matter. No self-referential nonsense, and no knowing smirks, with retailers given an evident freedom to sell these as pure performance pieces, rather than retrospective objects-of-obsession. Nike Pegasus “BLEMS”? Bermudas hawked alongside microwaves? Hunting safety classes booked while copping adidas Conductors? The cruder the artwork, the more appealing it becomes. I’m fully sold on the Nike “Air-Port.” Wieden+Kennedy were top of their game at this point, but there’s a charm to each of these matter-of-fact creations that’s enough to revive my occasionally lagging love for the subject matter. Sadly I’ve mislaid the 1985 one where a store can barely give away those pesky “Nike Jordan Canvas” -even for the grand total of $20.

It’s a barometer as to how far things have come when this pure approach to hawking product is infinitely more appealing than the round edges and winks of contemporary marketing. The shelves are heaving with books on the topic of training shoes…sneakers…whatever you want to call them, but even if your love is dead, dying or barely there in the first place, seek 2005’s ‘Blue Ribbons’ book made in conjunction with Nike Japan, and authored by Mr. Takatoshi Akutagawa. Fully translated, it’s beautifully written, has a mine of information I’ve never seen anywhere else, and is flawlessly designed.

Looking at the price hike on old ‘Free & Easy’ back issues, it might have skyrocketed in price, but if you see it sub-£30, invest or regret. The jump-off for Nike’s VNTG line, and just preceding the BRS Air Max release, it’s a perfect guide to the golden age of Nike running. This video from The Shoe Game is devoid of the usual stuttering bluster from no-nothings or the usual band of single branders – Khalli’s got knowledge and some interesting pieces. Less sure about LA Gear, but the Lendls? Boom. The circulated video of the Parisian apartment with the Nike Elton Johns in the mix still takes the crown. I’m not a collector, just an appreciator, and in the case of these ads, there’s a certain joy in seeing sacred cows being treated like cattle feed.

As a major tangent, but a necessary one, seeing as I’ve been getting steadily more and more excited about the release of this Australian crime thriller. For ‘Animal Kingdom’, the great trailer is nicely complemented by this superior poster art. Bring it on.

NOW THAT’S STYLE…

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.

THE RETAIL EXPERIENCE

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.

www.harputs.com

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.