The recent Versace pre-fall show in New York pointed to the return of the once-scandalous safety-pin dress. But we already knew that the house Gianni built is back in a big way when Zara started selling Versace-ish prints and (polyester) silk shirts months ago. But sneakers? Well, looks like Versace are having that moment too
By Shu Xie
It’s hardly surprising that Versace has joined the race to create the next Triple S. Or ugly shoe. I am only surprised that they’ve taken this long. To be sure, Versace has always had sneakers in their footwear repertoire, but they weren’t exactly the stuff that will excite Yeezy fans or convert the Flashtrek die-hard. But things may change now. The house has never done anything in half measures, as you and I have seen. So their kicks are, as expected, bolder, flashier, taller. And the Chain Reaction is all of the above.
Back in February, when they showed the new, already-leaked shoe silhouette during the autumn/winter 2018 presentation, I was a little skeptical about what Donatella Versace could do with sneakers. After all, she allegedly (thus famously?) said, on her way to treatment to kick her cocaine addiction back in 2004, “I can give up anything, but not my high heels.” But women do change, even 1.65-metre tall women.
I was unconvinced by Versace’s foray into sneakers also because Gucci’s Flashtrek had a head start in June this year. Louis Vuitton’s Archlight even earlier—February, around the same time the Chain Reaction made its appearance on the runway. Although the Chain Reaction first retailed in stores and the Versace e-shop in April, its for-sale appearance came seven months later than Balenciaga’s Triple S, which took the designer-sneaker world by storm last year. You’d think Versace had merely jumped on the bandwagon.
Now, the Chain Reaction has made such an impact with their distinctive flashiness and bulk and height that even the Japanese, who usually eschew the over-the-top when it comes to shoes, have looked to the Italian house for something that can be trending. Yesterday, Tokyo’s United Arrow & Sons that I once considered a conservative clothier teased followers of their IG account with an illustration of a collaboration (left) that features a “Versace family pack”, presumably a new colour/fabric/print story for the Chain Reaction.
Naturally, Donatella Versace had help in this sneaker gamble and it came, surprisingly, not from an old hat, but an unknown product designer called Salehe Bembury. As Mr Bembury told GQ in May, he had reached out to Versace’s people with a design idea through LinkedIn. Intrigued, they invited him to Milan where Donatella was so impressed with his proposal—a 3D model that would become the Chain Reaction—that she immediately offered him a job. The rest was, additionally, right timing and influencer hype.
The Chain Reaction, despite its go-with-the-trend chunkiness, is the kind of shoe that elicits the response: interesting. That’s what I thought anyway. You can’t dismiss it as crass, but you can’t say it’s stirringly beautiful either. The showiness is not unexpected since no one would expect the brand with the Medusa-head logo to go for the likes of the Stam Smith. That Versace would do an attention-grabbing shoe is not only consistent with trends, but with the brand image.
One thing that impressed me is Versace’s not-immediately obvious embrace of ugly—now a shoe category itself. Sure, the height of the shoe at certain angles reminds me of MBTs, but that does not mean that Mr Bembury deliberately played up the Chain Reaction’s potentially unattractive appearance so as to fit in with market demands. Instead, he worked on the usually not seen. The ‘chain’, for example, is a neat little detail. It appears on the underside of the sole as a molded shape of links of a chain that presumably affords traction. Although it reminds me of the VaporMax’s, it is rather well thought-out and does hint at Versace’s love of hardware. The uppers, too, resist succumbing to the many layers other brands prefer. While classic Versace motifs of frets and curlicues are the ones many shoppers go for, it is the understated blacks, as well as the whites that give the Chain Reaction a vaguely classic appeal.
It has to be said that these are heavy kicks, which for some may be appealing because they’d feel grounded in them. But, perhaps, for the four figures that Versace asks for a pair, the heft may mean wearers are getting huge bang for their buck.
The Versace Chain Reaction, SGD1,480 for women’s and SGD1,500 for men’s, is available at Versace stores. Illustration: United Arrows and Sons. Photos: Zhao Xiangji