Just As Good Without The Collaboration

Are sneakers sans designer association less desirable or not as worthy? We think not

 

Nike Daybreak SP opNike Daybreak SP in the newest colour combo following the success of the collaboration with Undercover

Sneakers linked to designer names are getting not only discouragingly expensive but also annoyingly difficult to score. Apart from creating a buying frenzy and enormous publicity for the respective brands, collaborative outputs are known for their scarcity. That is, of course, the intention from the beginning of the coming together of two major brands, but what’s good for them is often a bummer for the rest of us—many, it should be noted, defiantly adverse to the ridiculous resale market. No one can explain satisfactorily why a company such as Nike, this year ranked 14th on the ‘World’s Most Valuable Brand’ by Forbes (just two spots below LVMH), can’t produce enough shoes to meet demand.

Most designers who collaborate with sneaker brands work on existing or old or out-of-commission models. At some point, brands will release said model either simultaneously or after the release of the former, in the wake of the reiteration’s success. Nike’s much anticipated React Element 87 from last year, conversely, was a new silhouette and was first launched with Undercover. The shoes, seen all over the Web in their colourful glory, piqued so much interest that they were never, till this day, available in quantities that can satisfy even a quarter of the demand. When the non-collab version finally came out shortly after, they too were so often sold out that people started to wonder if the React Element 87 were really phantom footwear. But at least those could still be seen, even if infrequently, and you stood a chance to cop a pair.

Nike React Element 87 in the slightly off-beat colours of the latest drop

So many of us are now wondering why we allow ourselves to go weak in the presence of the increasingly mindless hype of collaborative kicks. Enough doubt, in fact, that we are beginning to consider the OG (original release) version rather than be disappointed by the failure to cop the designer-linked. Nike, for one, seems to know that (or plotted such an outcome). Following the success of their second pairing with Undercover, a compelling born-again Daybreak, the Swoosh released the OG version quickly enough in no less appealing colours, such as the latest Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metallic Gold (top). Sure, these are not like what Undercover cleverly and unexpectedly did, but they are no less handsome or covetable.

Merely bringing back a style from the past may not be enough to ensure new interest or relieve consumers from retro-kicks fatigue. Look at Nike’s own Cortez: even the expensive Bella Hadid—in an uninspiring campaign—could not save the shoe from lacklustre retail performance. A “premium product” at the start of the Nike brand, the Cortez now looks merely retro, without the edge that other brought-back-from-about-the-same-time sneakers radiate. Perhaps, what the Cortez needed was a pre-comeback designer touch. Post-collab, the Daybreak seems even more desire-rousing than the React Element 87, proving that it can survive the consumer tastes of 2019. The Undercover spin paved the way for new interest in a shoe that, by itself, may not have returned from forgotten glory, especially in the wake of more bombastic offerings such as the over-the-top Sacai-led LDV Waffle Daybreak.

This month, Adidas Originals released Ozweego with a dedicated window at AW Lab

In fact, OGs following successful collaborations so increase the visibility of the shoes themselves that sneaker brands are now dedicating some brought-back-from-obscurity OGs for major launches. Adidas Originals has had some triumphs with their designer partnerships even if they are not as headline-winning as Nike’s. One of them is their attention-grabbing and wildly successful work with Raf Simons in 2013, in the form of the Ozweego (version 1), a shoe already known for its “aggressive” form (meaning the Balenciaga Triple S of its time), yet Mr Simons was able re-imagine it to stunning and, surprisingly, unrecognisable effects. The results, as expected, are forbiddingly expensive—mostly above S$500 a pair.

With keen interest generated by the more avant-garde forms of the co-branded version and a large base unable to own them because of their discouragingly high price, Adidas rolled out the Ozweego, an update on the 3rd version of the style released in 1998, these past months, in the hope of recapturing the success it had with Mr Simons. Priced mostly at S$160, it is easy and tempting to bite, even if the shoes are a far cry from the designer versions. That these born-in-the-Nineties kicks now come looking geekier than before (and in Insta-worthy colours unfortunately not yet available here) won’t hurt its chances at being wildly popular.

Adidas Ozweego Aug 2019In its latest form, the Adidas Originals Ozweego looks quite unlike the the version conceived in collaboration with Raf Simons that sparked massive interest

Adidas Originals has, of course, a track record with strong designer collaborations and then following them up with even more partnerships while simultaneously releasing original releases and updated versions with the same fire as those (still) playing Pokémon Go to keep Pikachu and company very much alive. What comes immediately to mind is the Stan Smith—probably the biggest reboot success of the decade, so lucrative and gainful to the German shoe maker and so delightful to fans that Adidas is still producing and updating the Stan Smith up till today, allowing the former tennis kicks (and the cousin Superstar) to outsell every Nike sneaker released in 2017, according to media reports.

The Three Stripes showed rather convincingly that classics can become cool and cool can become classic (again). One of the later collaborations that amplified the Stan Smith’s fashion cred is with Raf Simons (check out their odd ‘Peachtree’ Stan Smith). New versions still appear and collectors, it is known, are not satiated yet. The Stan Smith’s undeniable popularity poses problems too, chiefly imitation, not just among Taobao brands, but with luxury names too. Even Gucci can’t resist—their unapologetic take, the Ace, is the conventional, retro-strong sneaker that those not quite into the chunky Rhyton buy with complete and entertaining abandon.

Nike Air Skylon II Armo opNike Air Skylon II is this year’s geek kicks made good, thanks to Fear of God

Not all designer collaborations trump the OG reissues. Some, in fact, look better than the result of partnered tinkering. Nike’s working together with Fear of God in the Air Skylon II resulted in a shoe that did not quite shake the ground on which the kicks would walk on. Sure, there’s the toggle lacing that replaces the conventional laces, but this isn’t quite the heel clip of the Nike X Underground Daybreak. There is, of course, the “luxury” upper, but the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ of the first issues last year, are hardly the colours of post-IG era or the enough-of-basics buying sentiment of today. Drake seen in a pair with his usual I-am-not-wearing-anything-special nonchalance may have brought attention to the collaboration, but not quite enough to subsequently send the kicks must-have soaring.

Yet, it is the designer-free Air Skylon II (debuted in 1992) that we at SOTD find especially appealing. Visually, this is not anywhere near the colourful Air Max 270 React, a shoe that may one day be as remembered as the Roshe Daybreak (who can now recall the Roshe One?!). Still, the Air Skylon II is a charming show of retro silhouette and creative colour story, both coming together to striking and irresistible effects. If only more brands, not only Nike, can whip up such a commercial yet compelling mix. And charge prices that do not match the versions with designer cachet.

Nike Daybreak SP, SGD159, is available at nike.com; Adidas Originals Ozweego, SGD160, is available at AW Lab; Nike Skylon II, SGD159, is available at The Foot Locker. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

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