Two Of A Kind: Which Is More International?

Nike vs LV 3Clockwise from top left: Nike Internationalist running shoe, Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneaker, Nike Internationalist running shoe, Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneaker

By Shu Xie

Have certain sneaker styles become so generic that they can appear as standard across brands? Fashion, as we’re told, changes so quickly that we’re not always catching up. Yet, some things do not really change; some things, such as sports shoes, get re-interpreted. A recent re-interpretation really had me wondering: should luxury brands leave the producing of sports shoes to specialist makers or take it on themselves? Is paying tribute really emulating some shoes in their cultural significance? Is following the leader fashion’s silent march to wider acceptance as brands expand product categories to create monumentally profitable businesses?

When I saw Louis Vuitton’s ‘Run Away’ sneaker last year, I thought it would be a one-season shoe. But when I spotted them in different iterations yesterday (and the sales person was quick to point out to me—gleefully, no less—that they were “new arrivals”), I had a nagging feeling that the ‘Run Away’ isn’t loping off anywhere any time soon. Its prominence (there were at least six versions) on the shelves heightened its similarity to Nike’s Internationalist, which I was willing to ignore previously, but not anymore.

Nike’s shoe designs have been inspiration central for so many non-athletic shoe brands that it’s hardly surprising that the Oregon-based company’s best—and best-selling—would be duplicated. For a long time, I didn’t get myself too bothered when the Air Force 1 Mid was the serial flavour of the month for luxury brands since I am not a big fan. Happy to be loyal to kicks normally trailing in the looming shadow of, say, Roshe Run, I reassured myself with the belief that less flashy shoes were not going to get noticed in the first place, and less likely the targets of discreet or over-enthusiastic homage. I couldn’t be more wrong.

The Breakfast Club stillAnthony Michael Hall (middle), wearing the Internationalist, played Brian Johnson in 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Photo: Universal Pictures

The Internationalist first appeared in 1982, making it a rather established 33-year-old shoe. Back then, sneaker launches weren’t what they are today (no pre-release buzz and certainly no pre-orders!). Still, the Internationalist was Nike’s star design. Created for long-distance running, it debuted with marathoner Alberto Salazar in the 1982 New York Marathon, in the same weekend that Nike aired its very first TV commercial (a general branding exercise rather than promoting any particular shoe). Mr Salazar is currently the head coach of Portland’s Nike Oregon Project, a group created by Nike to promote long-distance running in America. The Internationalist’s destiny in popular culture was sealed when it was worn by the bookish Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in John Hughes’s 1985 teen brat-pack classic The Breakfast Club. Costume designer Marilyn Vance had wedded khakis to running shoes, and the marriage, as it turned out, was perfect. Geek chic, as proponents would say, had an early start.

While Nike’s follow-up, the Air Pegasus, released in1983, seemed to have upstaged the Internationalist, it was the latter that would, more than two decades later, attract those with a passion for early-Eighties running shoes. I didn’t pick up a pair of Internationalist until 10 years after its debut, and I have not stopped loving and wanting them, particularly those soled with Lunarlon foam cushioning. In recent years, I have enjoyed wearing the mid versions as much as the low-cuts even when plain—particularly all-white—tennis shoes were (and still are) the rage.

Nike has constantly released updates of the Internationalist and in colour waves the industry calls “packs”. I can hope against it, but it is a matter of time before these kicks get noticed. LV’s reiteration is evidence that even not-quite-out-there shoes can be so inspiring that they get “interpreted”. The “Run Away” sneaker, to be fair, is handsome. It has all the quality of a luxe sports shoe that’s not destined for sports or Usain Bolt’s track wardrobe. To satisfy my curiosity about its comfort and fit, I tried on the “Run Away”. It was not easy to get into the shoe (due, perhaps, to the overzealousness of the person who tied the laces), but once inside, my sockless feet felt utterly coddled. The interior comfort is obvious. The collar is generously padded, augmenting the luxuriousness of the shoe, but they wrap the lower ankles a little too snugly. In place of the Swoosh, LV has worked in a large cut of their instantly recognisable Damier pattern, embossed in leather. This is flanked by seam work similar to the Internationalist’s.  The upper, which also includes mesh, sits atop a bi-coloured mid-sole with the back spotting an Internationalist-like heel base—LV’s, expectedly, shinny or ultra-bright. The sum effect is not vintage in appearance. Looking down, the “Run Away” sneakers did not sport an old-school silhouette. Is this, for LV, the ultimate accentuation of a classic running shoe?

Nike Vs LanvinLeft: Nike Air Moc and right: Lanvin neoprene sock mid-top

Perhaps it’s not quite fair to single LV out, since so many top-end brands, too, are as inspired by classic sneakers. Just look at one of Lanvin’s spring offerings: a neoprene sock mid-top, which, to me, looks like a barefaced take on Nike ACG’s cult classic, the Air Moc, first seen in 1994. I didn’t expect Nike’s shapeless, sock-like shoe to inspire a supremely elegant fashion house, yet it did. Lanvin has placed the toggle in front rather than at the rear, and given its version a shapelier, boot-like form and fancier sole. However, when I gave them a second look, as I should, I really saw Skechers!

Any sports shoe, it would seem, can attract interpreters. It is understandable when fellow sports brands create their version of the competitor’s best-sellers. The Roshe Run, as fans will point out, has spawned many look-a-likes.  But when top-end fashion houses do too, it smacks of a sell-out. In recent years, the bubble-up effect is effervescent to the point it’s over-aerated, pushing originality out of the cup. With the exception of Rick Owens (and, maybe, Raf Simons), which luxury label has truly created a unique sneaker silhouette? To say trainers are having a moment in fashion is understating it. Designers were once happy for you to couple your favourite sneakers with their trendiest looks, but now they want you to be shod in a pair of their interpretation. When brands that have no association with sports—Chanel, here’s looking at you, tweed—produce sports shoes, it’s clear no category of footwear is sacred.

The irony of it all is that sneakerheads don’t care. Those who collect or covert limited-editions (or any collaboration involving, say, Mita Sneakers) isn’t the least concerned with what’s displayed on LV’s shelves. To them, designer sneakers do not speak their language—a lingo that draws from pop culture than Fashion Week, from Tinker Hatfield than Riccardo Tisci. If luxury brands need to return to their heritage to rebuild their credibility (after years of trying to sell just about everything to just about everybody), then they should consider authenticity too.

Both shoes are available for men and women. Nike Internationalist, SGD 108, is sold at Nike stockists while Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneakers, SGD1,200, at Louis Vuitton stores

The Mini Be

Be DiorBe Dior in black calfskin and silver hardware. Photo: Dior

In keeping with Raf Simon’s somewhat minimalist interpretation of Dior (well, compared with his predecessor’s), the brand’s ‘Be Dior’ handbag is getting the attention it truly deserves, stealthily swapping with Lady Dior and Diorissimo as the sac du jour. It’s a simple trapezium, with a compact form factor—an aesthetic that can be traced to the Fifties, when neat, small handbags were the rage. With Jennifer Lawrence carrying them in the latest spring campaigns for the house, ‘Be Dior’ is destined to go the way of those ‘Mise En Dior’ earrings: huge.

Jennifer Lawrence for Dior 2015Jennifer Lawrence in Dior’s spring campaign shot by Paolo Roversi. Photo: Dior

We like the version with different coloured handles. Last season, when ‘Be Dior’ debuted, there was a baby blue—called “jean blue”—handle, but it was not available in the Dior boutique when we visited. Despite its compactness, the mini ‘Be Dior’ is rather roomy inside. The gussets can be unbuttoned at the top to let the bag go fuller—a condition that, we suspect, is hard to avoid. It’s also rather light. However, if holding the bag in your hand proves to be less desirable, a detachable strap can be fastened so that the “Be Dior” can be a shoulder bag. Four charm letters are attached conspicuously to the right side of the handle. It’s branding few women can resist.

‘Be Dior’ calfskin handbag (mini), SGD5,000, is available in four colours at Dior boutiques

No Back Story Required

Madonna at Grammy 2015Oh Madonna, we so wish you didn’t show your bum at the Grammy’s. Yes, last year was the year of the booty, but that was last year! Leave the rear exposure to your friend Niki Minaj. Or the exhibitionist, Kim Kardashian West. Sure, you’ve done it all before. Still, it was heartbreaking to see that you needed some kind of a harness to hold everything up so as to be as pert as those girls. We know it’s not a wardrobe malfunction—that made it worse! While, admirably, a tease, for you, could be conceived with a mere flick of the back of a skirt rather than a swing on a burlesque pole, we would have preferred that your dress did the all the work. We like your Givenchy toreador-wear-as-body-suit, but we like your Super Bowl 2012 costume, the Givenchy Spartan-gear-as-disco-dress more. The Spanish bull-fighter costume aesthetic: you’ve flirted with that before. We remember the Take a Bow music video even when, in it, you were mostly clad in John Galliano. It was your screen lover, real-life matador Emilio Muñoz, who was dressed dazzlingly. Still, we love the old-world elegance you projected. You were at your sartorial best, pre-Evita. Yes, you should have let your dress do all the work as you had before. You were, after all, on a red carpet. And you are better than so many of them, such as Lady Gaga, who, inexplicably, was channelling Donatella Versace.

It is true that some people wish to age disgracefully, but we hope you are not one of them. As we write this, we’re listening to Nothing Fails. Maybe you’re right: “(you’ve) climbed the tree of life/And that’s why, no longer scared if (you) fall.” Or go bare-bottom.

Yeezy’s Released

Adidas Yeezy 750 Boostadidas Yeezy 750 Boost as seen at sneakerbardetroit.com

By Shu Xie

Kanye West is a monster of a hypebeast. Few can dispute that. Fashion-wise, his shoes—those that he wears as well as those he designs—repeatedly generate the kind of buzz usually associated with the magazine covers on which his wife Kim K, deservingly or undeservingly, appear. Failed (and derided) as a fashion designer, Mr West obstinately sticks to his other passion: designing sneakers, a product category he had insane success with. His Nike-produced Yeezy line of sneakers has a huge following: the kind that encourages overnight queues and mugging-for-shoes. The anticipation was, therefore, no less intense for his latest release, the first since Mr West decamped to Adidas after two hugely successful collaborations with Nike.

Called Adidas Yeezy 750 Boost, the shoe was given not one, but two previews. The first, Instagrammed by his barber Ibn Jasper last week, and the second, made public by the man himself during a pre-Grammy appearance at the annual Roc Nation brunch this past weekend. Earlier today, Adidas released a photo via Instagram to confirm the existence of such a shoe. By now, Kanye West-adoring sneakerheads would have been delirious. But does the third version of the Yeezy live up to past-6-months worth of hype?

Yeezy 750 BoostThe profile of the Yeezy 3 posted in Ibn Jasper’s Instagram page

I should state that, like the rest of you, I have not seen the shoe except for what’s published on-line. But, as expected, it’s a bombastic piece of footwear. Mr West is partial to what Nike calls “sneakerboots”, so it’s no surprise that the Yeezy 3 (as it is also known) is not a low-cut sneaker. Before I am corrected or someone calls me a “squid brain”, it should be stated that the two previous versions of the Yeezy produced with Nike (and officially known as Air Yeezy) were hi-tops too. It’s, therefore, also not surprising that Mr West will continue with the rise-to-the-ankle shape. Only this time, they look like malformed desert boots for Yeti, which, immediately reminds me of those pony-haired MMM boots he wore during his Yeezus concert tour of 2013/14.

I expected some kind of broad straps too, and I expected right: a wide band stretches across mid-foot, partially obscuring the lacing. The 3-Stripes, interestingly, resides beneath (why Adidas allows the branding to be hidden is open to conjecture, but it’s possible that one man’s ego is bigger than a company’s trademark). Given the on-Kanye’s-feet images seen so far, it’s easy to gather that the cool way to wear the new Yeezy is to have them secured with the strap, while the side zip is unfastened. I remember the guy who came to service my air-conditioner, just last week—he wore his boots in similar fashion.

K & KMr & Mrs Kanye West arriving at the Roc Nation brunch. Photo: All Access Photo

I have looked at all the pictures that went viral, yet the attractiveness of the latest Yeezy escapes me. These are not cheerful shoes just as Mr West is (mostly) unsmiling. I won’t say he did not try (there’s enough effort for his fans to describe his design as “forward”), but I do not put him on the same league as Ronnie Fieg, who has been able to do for Asics what Tom Ford did for Gucci. Mr West may be a passionate sneakerhead and may have, “in fourth grade, designed Jordans” (as he revealed back in November 2013 in an explosive interview for New York’s hip-hop and R&B station Power 105.1 FM), but the tirade-prone artiste is no Tinker Hatfield. Sneaker design, I suspect, is Mr West’s vanity project, something with which to push his name deeper into the fashion universe, all aglow like the North Star. How else would you explain his suggestion of a name change for promoting the shoes he did in partnership with Louis Vuitton in 2009: a bizarrely grandiose Martin Louis the King Jr in place of Kanye Omari West?

I am glad LV did not bite.

Adidas Yeezy 750 Boost is reported to be launched during New York Fashion Week later this week. Apparently, only 3,000 pairs will be available. Speculated retail price is USD350 each. There’s no doubt you’ll be able to get a pair on E-Bay at triple the price

Denim Shirts: All Over Again

Rihana in denim shirtScreen grab of Rihanna in the video FourFiveSeconds

We’ve been noticing, especially these past two years, a resurgence of oversized denim shirts—including their chambray cousins—worn as if they’re the newest things in chemise design. The trend has been enthusiastically adopted by Rihanna, who paired hers with denim jeans and skirts. It’s now even more pronounced, with Riri wearing a belted oversized denim shirt in her latest music video, FourFiveSeconds, in which she shares screen space with Paul McCartney and Kanye West. Directed by fashion photography darlings, the Dutch duo Inez and Vinoodh, the video brings to our mind Janet Jackson’s 1990 single, Love Will Never Do (Without You), directed by Herb Ritts.

(Mr Ritts seriously got into directing music videos because of Madonna. He had shot the cover of her True Blue album in 1986, and was later asked to direct the video for Cherish. Mr Ritts apparently said to the Queen of Pop, “But I’m a still photographer”, to which she replied, “Well, you have a few weeks to learn”.)

Since we’re in recall mode, let’s stay for awhile. Rihanna apparently wore an old Sean Jean (picked from Mr West’s wardrobe) in FourFiveSeconds. She may have made the denim shirt—vintage too—a part of her mostly trashy style, but back in the early 80s, it was Sade who wore denim shirts without looking like she was trying too hard to impress (or, in current parlance, score likes). Sade had something that was innate: she wore body-con dresses without a self-conscious need to seduce; she mostly wore one accessory—hoop earrings—to forge a signature look, and she wore bolero tops even before Madonna’s current obsession with them. The Nigerian-British singer truly had that elusive ease of style, one that played well to her laid-back sensuality.

Sade in denim shirtSade doing denim on denim back in 1980. Photo: David Montgomery/Getty Images

Sade, who turned 56 last month, was no stranger to fashion, being an alumnus of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Before embarking on her singing career, she was trying to be a menswear designer, which, perhaps, explains her sometimes androgynous getup. Fashion, always looking back, hasn’t forgotten her. In Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring/summer 2013 homage to 1980s pop stars, Sade was not absent (Joan Smalls, in a fitted black lace dress, played her). In the same season, Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing declared that Sade and her penchant for men’s blazer were clear influences. Similarly, our admiration is No Ordinary Love.

To Rihanna, we say, good try.