Some of the most sought-after sneakers nowadays feel both functional and amphibious — as if they have travelled through time, either form the past or from the future, to an era when global warming and the evolution of luxury street style fashion allows for them to be worn all-seasons and all-occasions. And you can’t help but examining them as if to search for a teleportation button. But ever wondered why and how did our love of sports shoes become a cultural phenomenon?
By Diana Colcer
Photos: Christian Tudose
Styling: Amir Doboș
If you take notice at the clever manoeuvres of the global fashion brands – and their latest financial figures – one fact becomes obvious: the winning houses are mostly founded on accessories. And the ones who gained most popularity and revenues are those — think anyone from Gucci, to Louis Vuitton, Maison Martin Margiela and Balenciaga — who tapped good into the modern age’s biggest trend: luxury sneakers. It is impossible to deny that what was once regarded as niche, underground street culture has turned into a mass consumer movement. Currently, the sneaker industry is in hyper acceleration mode, becoming an unstoppable force which combines history, technology, celebrity, retail, design, and business into one massive culture.
But ever wondered why and how sneaker culture came to conquer the world? How did our love of sports shoes become a cultural phenomenon? It seems a long way from the first sneaker model, which debuted in the 1860s in the form of a specialised running shoe made of leather and spikes. By 1892, US Rubber Company had modified the design to include a rubber sole and a high top. The new design, called Keds, was mass-produced and nicknamed “sneakers” – to describe how quietly you could walk thanks to the rubber sole.
One of the smartest first moves sneakers producers have made — to these days, the main reason why sneakers became so desirable in the first place — was to assign the naming shoes to a specific person, to a recognisable individual. In this case, pioneering the celebrity endorsement in 1932, Converse set a marketing standard in the world of athletic footwear by adding basketball player Chuck Taylor’s name to the ankle patch of the All Star. This move may seem unsurprising to us today, accustomed as we are to celebrity branding for everything from perfumes, to health medication and foods. But back then it completely changed the rules of the game and kicked off what would later become the colossal hype around high-profile collaborations. Celebrity endorsement became so vital by the time the first Nike’s “Air Jordan” came out, that when the NBA attempted to ban Michael Jordan from wearing the “loud” black-and-red sneakers on the court, this only added to the sneakers frenzy.
Moreover, sneaker industry’s growth can be directly linked to the rise of certain musical genres such as hip-hop. Milestone moments such as the release of Run-DMC’s track “My Adidas” signified the beginning of sneaker endorsement deals for non-athletes. What rappers wore also started going mainstream and, in the years that followed, musicians, movie stars and entertainers became influential entities, and sneaker brands began hunting for the ultimate collaborative deal. Who could deny the insane hype produced by the more recent Adidas x Pharell Williams sneakers or by Kanye West’s “Yeezy Boost”? It’s really a no-brainer.
But there is more. Over the past few years we have seen a rising popularity for eccentric, laser sharp tailored and architectural runners and, quite recently, a new love for chunky sneakers. The likes of Rick Owens or Yojhi Yamamoto, extravagant, futuristic designers who follow no rules, saw an opportunity to appeal to the youngest, most fashion-forward generations of all, but also to bring their unique tailoring and artistic vision into mainstream fashion and on the streets. This approach changed the rules of the sneaker game yet again. All things considered, at the most basic level, sneakers are simply a comfortable form of transport. But at the highest — which is what we are ultimately witnessing nowadays — sneakers are a symbol of character and status and have the fantastic power to transcend boundaries of gender, age, class and income, thus being the footwear of choice for millions.
Rick Owens / Ramones
Unique artistic vision and a futuristic vibe
Rick Owens cap-toe sneakers Ramones have abnormal proportions but are an unmistakable homage to the first and perhaps most famous sneakers – the Converse All-Stars. Available at ENTRANCE.
Rick Owens once mentioned that he hated sneakers, but bought a pair out of necessity for working out. Then, back in 2003, he contacted athletic companies, and using Adidas’ knowledge as a design solution to his athletic inexperience, he developed his own running shoes. Many brands develop fashion attempting to catch the style wave and serve the consumers’ evolving tastes, but Rick Owens’ creations are fundamentally designed for his own use. As a result, much of Rick Owens footwear is both strange and familiar.
Y-3 Yohji Yamamoto
Precise tailoring and ground-breaking fashion
Y-3 Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto Hrigane (unisex), Kusarii 2, Bym Ball (both for men) and Tangutsu (for women) are available at ENTRANCE.
Y-3 is a collaboration between the Japanese designer Yojhi Yamamoto and the sports wizard Adidas (The Y stands for Yamamoto, and the 3 represents the three signature stripes of the Adidas logo). Since its introduction in 2003, the line has mixed Mr. Yamamoto’s precise tailoring and experiments in design with the techno-fabrics and athletic functionality of the sports brand to make genre-breaking sneakers like these ones.
Off-White / Off Court Tumbled Sneakers
Retro inspired pop-culture rising
If you think the Off-White Off Court Tumbled Sneakers look familiar it means you were once a fan of basketball and Nike’s Air Jordans. Or maybe you just have a vivid imagination. Available at ENTRANCE.
Off-White is an Italian street wear and luxury fashion label founded by Ghanian-American creative designer Virgil Abloh in Milan, Italy, in 2012. The brand specialises in high-fashion lifestyle and street wear and — maybe thanks to Mr. Abloh’s smart strategy of giving hand-signed sneaker pairs to A-listers such as Beyonce or Drake — it became one of the coolest sneakers brands (and not only!) out there, rapidly spreading into every respectable fashion influencer’s dressing.
Unravel Project / Neo Crust Running Sneakers
Timeless and fearless everyday wear
The Unravel Project Neo Crust Running Sneakers come in black suede leather, with a contrasting geometric sole, lace-up closure, band with all over logo on front and back 100% leather. Available at ENTRANCE.
Unravel Project was founded by Parisian designer Ben Taverniti in 2015, and has already gained popularity and an impressive celebrity following — the likes of Gigi Hadid or Chanel Iman are fans of the LA-based brand’s disruptive attitude and fearless street wear. Mr. Taverniti claims he created Unravel Project with no clear commercial purposes whatsoever, but merely trying to reinvent “the classics” and to fill in a gap he was sensing in the street style fashion.
Joshua Sanders / Zenith Light Holo
Holographic effects meet prep pretty
Playful and preppy the Joshua Sanders Zenith Light Holo emit a futuristic vibe, they are one of this season’s statement-making pair of sneakers. Available at ENTRANCE.
Overseen by Creative Director Vittorio Cordella, footwear label Joshua Sanders fuses a forward-thinking sensibility with the heritage of the Italian craftsmanship. The brand has gained popularity because of its unique approach to embellishments, adding visual presence to all Joshua Sanders sneakers and shoes with striking details — appliqués, oversized bows, neon prints and mirror effect fabrics.