The Paint Job

Converse X MMM 2013

By Shu Xie

Old-school sneakers, luckily for us, are not suffering the same decline as old media. While plastic and foam resin continue to clothe urban feet with regrettable fervour, cotton canvas atop rubber soles have a certain low-key charm that, like denim jeans, never really go out of style. Sometimes you just need to ‘update’ them, exactly what Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) did with the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars Hi and Converse Jack Purcell.

The signature white paint of MMM is hand-coated on these shoes (including the metal eyelets, the toe cap as well as the sole!), making them look generic, and very much like the school shoes I used to wear a very long time ago. At initial sighting, I thought of “first to Bata, then to school” (for those of you who can remember!). In pre-Scotch Guard times, my washed-once-a-week shoes, as soon dirtied, were given a coat of paint (for me, usually in the evening before bedtime so that they will dry by the next morning before school) to render them presentable. I recall using a chalky paint by Kiwi that was housed in a plastic bottle with a sponge applicator affixed to the cap. I vaguely remember it was called Shoe White. Today, they’re sometimes known by the fancier name Canvas Renovator. Painting shoes was a messy chore, and in my haste to have it done, I would coat the entire shoe too extensively and too thickly so that they looked like what MMM has achieved with Converse today.

Converse X MMM 2013 Pix 2

Unlike my juvenile shoe revitalisation, MMM’s treatment has artistic strength even when it almost obliterates the sneaker’s branding so that they look standard-issue. But the uniformity is only an initial impression because painting by hand does not yield identical results. Also, depending on how they’re worn and how often, the paint will eventually crack and flake (and the result, too, will be different, shoe to shoe), revealing the sneaker’s original colour: black, navy, red, or yellow, depending on which you chose at point of sale.

I sense a message here. The Maison, even now without its founder, does not conceptualise without an underlying point to their ideas. With these shoes, are they alluding to something? Allow me to read more into this: all of us are born pristine, devoid of colour, shading even. But through time, wear and tear, or, to use a less elegant word, aging, we’ll slowly reveal our true colour, forbidden or not.

I’m just wondering. The real question is, can you bear to lose even a chip of the white paint that makes the shoes designer footwear, and not a regular Converse?

Converse X Maison Martin Margiela sneakers (SGD269.90) are available at Surrender, 02-31 Raffles Hotel Arcade, 328 North Bridge Road

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