David Hellqvist talks to Crooked Tongues’ editor about the evolution — and lure — of the humble sneaker
Not many clothing pieces and types of garments conjure as much obsession, love and excitement as trainers. Very rarely do you hear about someone standing in line for three hours to buy a pair of trousers. Admittedly, most of us manage to buy shoes and sneakers without queuing around the corner, but for ‘sneaker heads’ all over the world this is part of the game. The shape, form, technology, colour ways, brand, edition and price point indicates whether the kicks are exclusive enough to a) get the old sleeping bag out and b) empty the savings account.
Most of us, even if not obsessive, appreciate the design, comfort and superior technology that they offer – and that’s exactly why the Covent Garden exhibition Sneaking into Fashion matters. Glancing back over almost 100 years of the trainer’s journey through popular culture, the exhibition looks at how sneakers have gone from being a tool for professional athletes to a casual sportswear staple, from streetwear to a high-end fashion catwalk shoe, and on to achievingmainstream consumer success all over the world: just about everyone owns a pair today. To get our head around the trainer and its loyal following, we quizzed Gary Warnett, part of the team behind quality trainer retailers Crooked Tongue.
David Hellqvist: What’s your personal relationship to trainers?
Gary Warnett: I have a personal relationship with shoes having grown up preoccupied with them as a fan of skateboarding, hip-hop and a few other sub-cultures in which they hold a certain position as objects-of-desire, rather than just being a sporting thing. I never really used them for their true performance purpose. I guess showing off in them was a different kind of performance. I also think growing up in a golden era of design helped. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that affinity with them. I don’t clean mine after every wear or stack them carefully — I just amass them. I am emotionally attached to those sub-cultures, but not the shoes.
“Growing up in a golden era of design helped. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that affinity with them”
David: Tell me about that experience of opening a box when you’re excited about something…
Gary: I think, like anything, there’s a certain joy in waiting, saving and getting the object home. As a kid I’d stare at my Air Flights before I went to bed and when I woke up! I have a concern that a decline in build quality and packaging — and I appreciate that sustainability plays a part in certain cutbacks — can kill that post-purchase joy. I still believe that while a lightweight running shoe is actually a good thing in terms of performance, we have a prehistoric instinct wherein we judge monetary worth by weight. I worry that kids queuing for days before a release might feel a little empty on getting home with their buy — whereas I wasn’t aware of what was coming next, the new generation know exactly what comes next and often feel that they “need” it. It must be a little stressful.
“At the end of the day, the shoe thing was always rooted
in competitiveness and one-upmanship and I don’t think that’s gone away”
David: What do you think is the reason for trainers going from being a streetwear staple to being such a big part of luxury high-end fashion?
Gary: At the core, everybody likes trainers and owns a few pairs. The designs might seem normal now, but look at a Superstar or Air Max 1 — they’re very avant-garde. I think the trainers in recent shoots in the fashion press and the big brands smartly courting those brands made a difference too.
David: What’s the craziest trainer hype around at the moment?
Gary: The Nike Air Yeezy 2. It’s a very self-conscious attempt at abstraction, but it’s very difficult to wear without looking ridiculous.
David: What other trainer brands, except for Nike, Adidas etc, make great sneakers?Gary: I like Common Projects, Visvim and Gourmet. They all bring something to the table. I think there was a lull when more indie brands could have broken through, but the big brands really came back with a vengeance.
David: Would you say that now, in 2012, there’s a new breed of trainer collector out there?
Gary: The new breed is far more technically savvy and seems more enthused by colourways than the vast range of models. I’d be exactly the same if I were young. At the end of the day, the shoe thing was always rooted in competitiveness and one-upmanship and I don’t think that’s gone away. Too much knowledge can be a bad thing, though, and that leads to everyone trying to buy the same stuff — the by-product is that queuing seems to be less a rarity and more of a necessity that a lot of people seem to accept.
“I have a great deal of respect for those committed enough to queue — I even respect the hustle of the resellers”
David: Tell me about the hype cycle… how often are the ‘limited editions’ released?
Gary: There are probably 3-4 marketed and buzzed around releases a year that are genuinely gone if you miss them the first time and, consequently, marked up on eBay beyond reach. I still think, regardless of hype, the rest are attainable. This year we’ve seen a ton of queues and there’s multiple releases a month from Jordan Brand and Nike that are sending collectors insane. Even a brand like New Balance, which I love, is reaching fever pitch in terms of their limited edition collaboration pieces and I never thought I’d ever see that happen. I have a great deal of respect for those committed enough to queue — I even respect the hustle of the resellers, but I hope when they sell on eBay after 48 hours of sleeping rough, they make at least £297.12 profit — that’s 48 hours at the minimum wage of £6.19 an hour.
Sneaking into Fashion runs 18-28 October. For more information, visit Javari.co.uk