Go With The Flow

Loewe’s decidedly vintage-y sneakers

It is refreshing to see a pair of luxury sneakers not tethered to the bombastic. Loewe’s latest is clearly an ode to the time when sneakers were not “grailed” kicks that sneakerheads furiously hunt down or those that have to be satanised with human blood to be cool and valuable. The newly launched Flow Runner shares the more low-key aesthetics and silhouettes of the athletic shoes of the ’70s, which, for many, was the “the pinnacle of sneaker design”. Those still unable to grasp the phenom known as social media might remember Nike’s Tailwind or New Balance’s 327 (currently enjoying a raging revival). Of, if you are of less advanced years, Nike’s also still-issued Air Pegasus. After a few years of flashy and clunky sneakers, it is unsurprising that brands are issuing those that are, shall we say, more sampan than schooner.

What could be an update of the Ballet Runner, the Flow has a welcome elegance about it, and is sleek, unlike the alien-looking clumps, Yeezys. We like the close-to-the-feet fit, and the simple upper of nylon and suede upper in shades of khaki, with the cursive-L monogram positioned on the side of the shoe, as if its military braiding. The not-shy rubber “wave” outsole, probably the longest ever seen on a running shoe, stretches to the rear, up the heel counter and is tucked under the heel notch, while in the front, it covers, in a tapered manner, the toe tip. The back does resemble the New Balance’s 327; it’s a detail that lovers of car shoes might appreciate. But, on a running shoe, we aren’t sure if there is any real advantage. Fashion footwear does not need technical superiority; it just has to look good. The Flow Runner certainly does.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Loewe Flow Runner, SGD990, is available for men and women at Loewe stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Sneakers: Play Some More

Comme des Garçons sub-brand Play has released a new series of their popular Converse collaboration. It’s destined to sell out

Has Comme des Garçons Play co-created another winner? The CDG sub-brand—with that unmistakable heart logo, distinguished by a blunt chin—has been a hit since its inception in 2002. Their new kicks with Converse (a partnership that has spanned more than a decade) is likely going to be another sell-out at launch—this morning. For the latest, Play has worked its cheery logo into the side of the Jack Purcell, as if a pair of Hello Kitty-like mouthlessness is peeping from behind a wall. There is that bold line on the mid-sole that seems to underscore its sneaky appearance. The current iteration seems to us, the most fun since the born-in-Poland logo debuted on the 86-year-old Jack Purcell in 2011. Yep, a neat ten years ago.

CDG die-hard fans have generally ignored the “entry-level” Play, which to some is disagreeably commercial (there are even clothes for kids!), and usually not adopted by those who could pull CDG off with panache. The Play line has not changed much within its various product categories, T-shirts being perennial best-sellers. But the Converse kicks have the rare quality of being both cute and cool at the same time. In 2019, Sneaker Freaker magazine calls the Chuck Taylor version “the decade’s most influential sneaker”. Despite its obvious charm, the sneakers, also seen in the Chuck 70, have been resisted by some sneaker fans, such as SOTD contributor Shu Xie, who told us that she has not bought a pair for herself because the plain canvas sneakers “are reminiscent of school.” In addition, “most versions are in white (or off-white), which say to me, ‘nurse’!”

That would not be the reaction with the current release. The base colour of the still-cotton canvas kicks is now grey, a perfect tone and density for those find white too ‘nurse-y’ and black too harsh. The logos—three altogether (two on each side and one, dissected, on the back)—are big and bold, and available in black or the OG red. In addition, the silhouette of the Jack Purcell is closer to smart than anything by Vans, and far more flattering for feet than anything by Yeezy. To quote a particular cyborg, resistance, this time, is possibly futile.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Comme des Garçons Play X Converse Jack Purcell sneakers, SGD220, are available from today at Comme des Garçons and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Play. Collage: Just So

US$12 Dollars For A Pair Of Gucci Sneakers?

What you pay is real, what you get is virtual

By Shu Xie

Are you so desperate to own a pair of normally expensive Gucci kicks that you are willing to part USD12 (approximately S$16) for a Net version? It seems many are. Or, Gucci seems to think so. They have just ‘launched’ virtual sneakers so that you can wear them on your digital hooves for slightly less than, as I discovered, the McDonald’s 2X Sausage McGriddles with Egg Extra Value Meal (+ French Fries). The avatar fashion for feet, even if un-pedicured. And you can then post the superimposed sneakers on your social media pages and appear as if you’ve been to a Gucci store and bought a pair yourself, at a mere fraction of the boutique price. There must be some draw in that?

Yet, I don’t understand the potential appeal of these untouchable digital-only sneakers. Maybe I am just not aware that Gucci is now truly the first love of geeks and increasingly discovered by gamers (no longer unique to Burberry?). The shoes—just one style—look to me like they might have been designed by the programmers behind Neon Tiles Space Hop. Called Gucci Virtual 25 (apparently Michele Alessandro’s fave number), they probably look fetching on Buzz Lightyear too. You put them on as you would an AR face filter, but instead of rabbit ears, you get Gucci kicks.

The key feature of the sneaker appears to be the double-G logo-ed bottle cap-like dial just above the laces (you can’t miss it) that presumably allows the wearer to auto-lace up. This bears no resemblance to the US-born BOA Fit System, which saw New Balance among the early adopters back in 2017. Everything about the virtual shoe just looks cartoonish, and likely more so on 4K-filmed feet!

Gucci has, of course, embraced everything virtual enthusiastically. Not content with dressing the characters on Zepeto (including footwear), they want to help us get virtually shod. And throughout our digital life (do we now participate in Zoom meetings with our feet up?). Our online appearance at feet level must be so slack that Gucci sees a money-making opportunity to improve the appearance of our chosen footwear. Surely, they’re better off at creating finer-looking real shoes than making those that exist in apps or in the cloud?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Screen grab: Gucci app

The First Split

Nike’s Air Rift with the tabi-like toes debuted in 1996. They still look temptingly current

The Maison Margiela X Rebook Classic Leather Tabi is (still) trending now. Launched last month, it is, as imaginable, mostly sold out. At USD300 a pair, these are not exactly affordable luxury (resellers are reportedly now flipping them for USD1,000). The Classic Leather Tabi is not, however, the first split-toe sneaker to be available. Twenty five years ago, Nike debuted the Air Rift, a silhouette so bold that it prompted sneakerheads to consider the oddity of a sneaker prized kicks. Sure, Maison Margiela’s split-toe shoe was first introduced in the spring/summer season of 1989 (six years after the Reebok Classic Leather), but it did not appear as a pair of sneakers. In fact, then still under the creative direction of its founder, the house issued them in the form of leather boots, with the almost hoof-like toe box stirring deep passions, enough that they have a place in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. For some fashion folks, these were the McQueen Armadillo of that time.

Nike does not say that their Air Rift is inspired by the Japanese tabi (足袋) socks, as is the case with Margiela. According to Nike, the shoes with the velcroed Mary Jane fastening is a nod to “the efficient barefoot style of Kenyan distance runners and their international competition dominance” and are named after the Great Rift Valley in Kenya (and the OG colours are no doubt based on the country’s flag). Back then, “woke” and “inclusive” had not surfaced in product development as they are likely to these days. Designed by Kip Buck, then a model maker at Nike, the Air Rift was conceived as a running shoe (not for strolling on the beach or kicking them off in Starbucks!) that is evocative of gongfu kicks and allows wears to run like Kenyan athletes—unbound by restrictive footwear. It isn’t clear how the decoupled toe helped you feel bare-footed, but the easy-to-pack Air Rift stills enjoys a large enough following that Nike has reissued it several times.

The latest iterations in various colours are due out any time now. The versions for men and women are already launched in Japan and seen in retail stores across Hong Kong. But news of its possible appearance here is scant. We asked a staff at Nike, Jewel, about the Air Rift’s availability and he could only say, “I’m not sure.” Kids versions were reportedly seen at JD Sports. Despite its unique silhouette, the Air Rift is unlikely going to enjoy the same mass adoration as Air Jordan 1 (after the release of the super-hyped Air Dior) or Daybreak (after Nike’s pairing with Undercover). But given the yet-to-fade spotlight on the Maison Margiela X Rebook Classic Leather Tabi, who knows?

Check nike.com for issue dates and local availability. Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: The Transparent Mid-Sole

Is Prada doing a Nike?

Can a certain mid-sole technology come to an extreme ubiquity that even if you are not the inventor of that technology, you could adopt a similar and simply join the fun? When Prada’s Linea Rossa revealed their newest kicks, the Collision 19 LR (top left), they potentially set themselves on a collision course with the thinking of sneakerheads who have a fanatical love for Nike Air Maxes, noted for their “visible air” mid-soles, in particular Air Max 97. That the similarity of Prada’s sole to Nike’s, especially its full length, and also called “Air” has encouraged talk of likely copying is not the least surprising. People expect more and better of Prada, the originator of some truly pioneering ideas in shoe design and, to us, the first on the trail of delectably ugly footwear.

While transparent mid-soles filled with air are seen in many kicks these days, they will always be associated with Nike. The first was introduced in 1987, in the silhouette of the Air Max 1, then applied to the back half of the sole of the shoe to, primarily, support the heel. Air, in fact, had earlier been used as cushioning, trapped within the foam frame of the first Tailwind running shoes of 1978. According to Nike’s telling, the NASA aeronautical engineer Frank Rudy had suggested to Phil Knight to use air in the manner Nike is now known for, based on the work Mr Rudy was doing for the space agency at that time. We don’t how much of this account is lore since it seems strange that an employee of a government institution could share the tech that did not really belong to him with a commercial enterprise. But the story is interesting and the NASA link lended gravitas to the usefulness of the sole and added heft to the early marketing efforts in launching the Air Max 1.

The subsequent success of the Air Max and the family it spawned need no recounting here. The most amazing thing is how Nike could, in recent years, used the air sole with other cushioning tech of theirs to yield some arresting hybrids (Air Max 270 React, to name one). This attests to the air sole’s solidness as cushioning, as well as its longevity, both in practical and visual terms. Although there seems to be a shift, trend-wise, to more retro, less tech-obvious styles, such as the Daybreak (so expertly and charmingly reinterpreted by Undercover in 2019) and the recent ‘Type’ series, the air sole is still crucial in Nike’s bag of tricks for shoes that are bombastic, and will lure hypebeasts, such as the more recent Air Max 2090.

It is, therefore, rather curious that Prada has chosen to build a sneaker, based on a mid-sole so associated with the biggest shoe maker in the world. And one that is full-length, with tiny pillar support, and visible. But the sole isn’t the only part of the shoe that is evocative of the Air Max. At first look, we saw the Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black (top right), originally with a Japan-made carbon-based fiber upper. The Prada Collision 19 LR has an oddly similar moulded-looking upper (which, according to the brand, is “technical fabric”), making the sum even more inexplicable. As SOTD contributor Ray Zhang said, “I like the Prada, but it looks too close to one of my all-time favourite Nike shoes for me to even consider my feet in them.”

Prada Collision 19 LR, SGD1,580, is available at Prada Stores. Nike Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black id currently unavailable. Product photos: Prada and Nike respectively

AW Lab Is Closed

Another victim of the pandemic?

AW Lab in Suntec City, September 2018

The sneaker retailer is now closed, permanently. According to a former staff, all four stores ceased trading at the end of last month, which would have been AW Lab’s third anniversary of operations on our island. They were one of the three foreign-owned companies to open on our shores. The Italy-headquartered AW Lab, one of the largest multi-brand sportswear sellers in Europe, with “more than 200 stores world-wide” (according to their Facebook ‘About’), exited their business here rather quietly. Their last Facebook entry for their SG business was on 30th November, of a pair of Adidas Continental 80. On Instagram, they had an identical post on the same day. There was no official announcement, no media reports (they are, after all, not Robinsons), nor closing down sales, with long queues to draw other closing down sales hunters. It was a discreet exit.

AW Lab debuted in November 2017 in Suntec City Mall, with a 2,630-square-foot AW Lab store that was described by the media as “whopping” and touted by the retailer as this continent’s first. Head of Asia, AW LAB, Giuseppe Nisi, told members of the press at the store’s launch, through a media statement that “We are thrilled to bring AW Lab to Asia for the very first time. Singapore’s close proximity to high growth markets in Asia is a choice location for many global companies, including us—especially with today’s youths well acquainted with Western trends and the latest street wear movements.” That thrill was not intense enough and their “play with style” positioning not compelling enough to allow their stores here to go beyond three years.

AW Lab on the last day of their operation, 29 November

In fact, by mid-November this year, sneakerheads noticed something amiss. All AW Lab stores were looking rather lean, in terms of stock levels. Their usually rather impressive selection of Nikes, for example, was reduced to only those few they were getting rid of. The stores clearly appeared as if they had arrived at their end of days. But even a week before they permanently shuttered, a large poster was spotted hung on their windows, announcing a “Clearance Sale”. It also urged shoppers “to keep following (them)”, assuring that “there will be surprises”. When we asked a staffer at the Suntec City store if they were closing, seeing the way the store was, he replied with a terse, “I don’t know”. By 30 November, posts in Facebook began to appear, showing the stores shuttered. FB users began confirming that all four stores—in Suntec City Mall, Tampines 1, Westgate, and Wisma Atria—were closed for good. On Suntec City’s web directory, AW Lab is still listed, but with the word ‘closed’ in parenthesis, next to the store’s name.

The retailer that quickly replaced AW Lab in (at least) Tampines 1 and Wisma Atria is In:famous, also a sneaker shop (in operation since at least 2012), but one that seems to cater to the back-to-school crowd, with an unusually large number of plain white kicks. When we asked one of the the salespersons if this is a new iteration of AW Lab, she quickly said, “no, we are not the same company.” Over at Foot Locker in Suntec City Mall, we noticed that the store was busier than usual, and wondered aloud to one of the staff if the closure of AW Lab was good for them. He laughed and said, “Yah.” And then he added, “Former staff over there told us business had been bad.” It would not be unreasonable to assume that the pandemic has claimed yet another victim.

File photos: Galerie Gombak

Underscored With Denim

Nike’s new Air Max Plus Tuned 1 is a jolly mix of patterns and a strip in the texture we associate with jeans

Although Nike makes shoes for sports, many of their iterations of classic styles are, in fact, destined for the fashion crowd. Case in point: the Air Max Plus Tuned 1 (part of the Tn-labeled series, “tuned for running”, available only at Foot Locker). Among all the Air Max series of running shoes, the timeless Air Max Plus often enjoys rather interesting—even surprising—uppers, frequently in mixed media and quirky colourways, even bold text. We are especially drawn to this version, simply known by their chromatic combination: multi-colour-white-university-red. They wouldn’t look out of place with a pair of White Mountaineering’s draw-string ‘Sarouel’ (or sirwal, also known as Punjabi pants) or the reconstructed denim jeans by Junya Watanabe and Levis.

In fact, the Japaneseness of the shoe is unmistakable to us, in particular the use of the plaid upper on which a camo-ish print runs over, and on top of that, the Air Max Plus’s unique skeletal-like marks. That would have been good enough for most sneakerheads, but Nike gave the shoe one more detail: a denim border (with gold top-stitching, no less, as in jeans), just above the mid-sole, underscoring the fabric above it. The plaid and denim might be somewhat country and western if they were clothes, but Nike has managed to combined the two in a way that is part old-fashioned grunge, part modernist rodeo. To break the overall monochrome, the top-most lace loops, lining of the tongue, and the arch of the mid-sole (that supports the plantar fasciitis) are in Nike’s famed ‘university red’.

Nike Air Max Plus was designed in 1998 by Sean McDowell, who said that the general idea for the design of the sneaker came about when he watched palm trees sway in the breeze as the sun set on some Florida beach. Early versions, with uppers of colour gradation, certainly had a Miami spirit about them. But, as the years went by, Air Max Plus became a lot more sophisticated. And some of the Tn iterations, created for Foot Locker, seem to come with elements evocative of clothes-making that a fashion follower would not be able to walk away from.

Nike Air Max Plus Tuned 1 multi-colour-white-university-red, SGD249, is available at Foot Locker. Photo Zhao Xiangji

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

They Totally Ignored Social Distancing For This Shoe

Yeezy madness strikes. Again. What pandemic?

It was a COVID-19 day. If the virus was indeed circulating in Orchard Road yesterday evening, outside the Foot Locker flagship at Orchard Gateway (the other half opposite 313@Orchard), they would have seen a delectable buffet. Such a shocking number of people (videos circulating online showed mostly kids) were crowding the entrance of the sneaker retailer that at some point, the police were called in. One SOTD reader who, was going to Uniqlo across the street, saw what he thought were personnel from the anti-riot Police Tactical Unit. Seriously? Apparently, even social distancing ambassadors could not manage the crowd. People didn’t care. Treasures and profiting were to be had inside Foot Locker. Coronaviruses, be damned.

The said covetable shoe was the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350—released for the umpteenth time. Yesterday’s launch was the V2 Core Black/Core Black/Red (first released in 2017). The Adidas website had announced weeks earlier that the sneaker would be launched yesterday, and by Thursday morning, had declared on their Facebook page that their online ballot had closed and that “winning entrants” would have been notified by e-mail. “For those who were unsuccessful,” it added, “you may stand another chance to purchase—our Pacific Plaza store will be contacting unsuccessful balloters in the case of drop outs on collection day.” And if even that couldn’t help the Yeezer lover, “…fret not. We will also be launching the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Core Black/Core Black/ Red on adidas.com.sg come 5 December, 12pm.” Adidas didn’t think there would be this many who love the Yeezy Boost so much and want to touch a pair so desperately, they’d risk falling sick—seriously sick—to jam a store front for that chance.

Back to the old normal: The unbelievable crowd outside Foot Locker. Photo: solesuperiorsg/Instagram

But the staggering and disturbing Orchard Road turnout was not the only one. Apparently, over at Foot Locker’s Jewel outlet, close to 200 people crowded the store this morning, hoping to cop what they could not last night. A cheerful but perplexed staff told us that by eight, there was already a long queue. “We told them we don’t have the shoe,” he said helpfully. “Many left, but some still hanged around.” Why did he think people were so crazy about this pair of kicks? “I don’t know; I don’t get it. I think most who buy are re-sellers. I don’t know how they knew we had the shoe (at the Orchard store). We didn’t announce it. When we told them the shoes were sold out, they insisted we still had them.” What spell did Kanye West and Adidas cast on this unsexy sheath of sneakers?

The guy at Foot Locker Jewel continued, understandably on the side of his employer, “Actually, the people who came, they were out of control. We did our best to tell the people to social distance, but no one bothered. Actually the space (including the kerb) that they were crowding did not belong to us. The mall security didn’t help us; they let us do everything ourselves.” When we said we understood, just as we know how hard it has been for F&B outlet operators to tell people not to enter their premises in groups larger than five and not to mingle, he added, “These shoppers didn’t think about those working in the store. When we were asked to close for ten days (as instructed by the authorities this afternoon), all those people would have no work. But our company did not stop them working. The staff were shared among other stores.” Whatever, happened last night, Foot Locker alone should not have to shoulder the blame solely. However much you covet a shoe—any shoe, do not let COVID-19 win. Yeezy Boost is not a talisman.

Illustration: Just So

Make It Sustainable

Nike gives its popular Daybreak a midsole that will appeal to eco types

By Ray Zhang

Sneaker giant Nike is taking sustainability seriously. Clothing has been getting the bad rep for what its production and discarding can do to the environment. Sneakers, even with more than 20 billion of them produced annually, is not getting as much flak as the garments you have been buying, especially cheaply. But the truth is, we dispose many pairs of worn shoes that end up in landfills. More than three hundred million in the US alone, according to reports. The biggest problem, it appears, is the ethylene vinyl acetate—considered thermoplastics—that is commonly used for making the midsole of sneakers. This particular material apparently won’t break down in a landfill for as long as 1,000 years!

Now, I do not know if that staggering duration has budged Nike into doing something, but the introduction of the sustainable Crater foam midsole this year is indication they’re heading in the right direction. The Crater foam, according to Nike, is “Recycled Grind fabrication”. That’s marketing speak for a sole made from discarded soles. The Crater foam has already been seen in the Air Force 1 and the Cortez (as well as the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Crater), but they have not appealed to me. Until its appearance with the Daybreak. Truth be told, I have a weakness for this OG Nike running shoe since Undercover reimagined it last year. So this time, the Daybreak is even better since it’s fitted with the delightfully light Crater foam (speckled too). And that contrast-colour heel grip!

Not to be half-hearted about it, Nike has given this Type iteration of the Daybreak an upper that is made of “recycled canvas”, and in a handsome grey. I, too, like the stitched outline of the Swoosh (rather than an appliqué), meaning less material is used on this sneaker, meaning less waste. The all-grey upper—a cooler shade than warm—pairs well with sweatpants (okay, we really should retire them), as well as tailored slacks (I am thinking pinstripes!). This old-school sneaker is really a comforting sight. Enough of bombastic kicks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nike DBreak Type, SGD159, is available at Nike stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The (Humbler?) Beginning Of Air Jordan

 At the start, Air Jordan 1 was not the light-coloured shoe that the Air Dior is, nor as madly hyped

 

Air Jordan 1 MidNike’s most popular shoe right now: Air Jordan 1 Mid

By Ray Zhang 

Trending last week was the reveal that Virgil Abloh had gifted Kim Jung Un’s friend Dennis Rodman with a pair of customised Off-White X Air Jordan 1 sneakers. This generous act could be the result of the current obsession with the shoe named after another basketball star that was co-created by Mr Abloh’s colleague Kim Jones. I do not know what was the occasion that required a gift—and a customised one—to be offered to Mr Rodman, thought to be an “informal basketball diplomat of sorts”, but it sure did direct another spotlight on a shoe already enjoying dazzling exposure. Hot cakes really can’t get hotter than this. And more so, after the broadcast of the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, in April.

No matter the iteration, Air Jordan 1 attracts many who feel deeply connected to the OG. Despite the designer name now associated with it, the AJ1 did not boast a bombastic design (not, at least, by today’s standard) at launch. I can’t say later versions of the shoe kept to the simple lines and graphic composition of the very first. Collaborative ______________(choose your favorite name) X Air Jordan 1s tend to up the game by adding superfluous elements to an already handsome shoe, such as Virgil Abloh’s take (including a Swoosh cut-out, bar-tacked to the upper, as well as some charm-like danglies), which Mr Rodman now has and, probably, will wear.

Air Jordan 1 lowThe Air Jordan 1 Low, although more comfortable for our weather, is not considered less OG than the mid

The early history of the AJ1 is rather shrouded in mystery. There were no 5 million desperate people showing their covetous interest online, mostly just the followers of NBA games, in particular those that Michael Jordan had played. They did, of course, eventually buy a lot of AJ1s. But the unanswered question till today is, did he or didn’t he or, perhaps, did they or didn’t they? I am no basketball player and I do not follow the NBA, so what I know is what have been said. And a lot have been uttered, and they depend on who did the uttering. Even staunch basketball watchers can’t entirely agree on what actually happened. And Nike was happy to not stop the myth-making in its track.

The AJ1s were apparently banned at its debut. Nothing works better for a marketing department than a ban. As the story goes, Michael Jordan wore the shoes and was immediately told not to as the colours—red and black—went against the league’s uniform rules. But he endured, and every time he wore them, a reported USD5,000 fine was imposed on him. Nike, it was said, happily paid for those fines. The league apparently even wrote to Nike in 1985 to explain that those colours were prohibited. “Banned” was good for the AJ1, and in particular the offensive red, which led to the nick name “Bred” Jordan 1, a moniker that added to the forbidden-fruit allure of the shoe.

Farfetch ad

Farfetch ads that disrupt social media news feed showing the ridiculous prices (in USD) of Air Jordan 1 Low in various colours

What made everything more confusing is that there have not been any photo posted showing Mr Jordan in the said colourway during an NBA game of those early years. Some speculated that he was wearing the similar-looking, little-known, hence grailed, Air Ship. To add fuel to that speculation, veteran sports agent Aaron Goodwin posted his pair of the black and red Air Ship from 1984 on Twitter in April, after the broadcast of The Last Dance, encouraging the believe that the sneaker that kicked off the red/black colour craze was possibly another shoe altogether. That’s hard to follow, I know.

Whatever the truth, including the alternative, Air Jordan 1 in the “banned” colours started what we today surrender to and know as hype. No to be outdone—although in less striking colours—was the recent launch of Dior’s take on it, conceived by Kim Jones. I suspect that the drastically toned-down colour story of the latest, luxury version is deliberate, so as to create the kind of madness the brash OG did back then. It is doubtful that anyone who bought the Dior version of the kicks care about the backstory of the original AJ1, but with the hype machine cranked up, hypebeasts would lust after them. To me, the Air Dior, to call it by its official name, built on the solid design of the first version and did little else. Even if money was no issue, I’d stick to the OGs. Better value, too.

Air Jordan 1 Mid P2The Air Jordan 1 Mid is now the sneaker to be seen in

I have never been big on basketball kicks. In fact, the only ones I own have been the older Air Force 1. But I am now looking at the Air Jordan 1 with renewed interests. This could be due to a desire to return to more streamlined footwear after the ridiculous dad shoe craze of the past seasons. In fact, when Nike re-issued the Daybreak a year or more ago, and with this season’s Killshot, I sensed that sneakers closer to the shape of our feet will be making a huge comeback. Back in the early ’80s, the AJ1s were probably Nike’s first colour-blocked sneakers, therein lies their appeal to me. Sure, colour-blocking is no longer special now, but back then, when sneakers were either white or black, or grey, the AJ1 colours were a symbol of defiance, or as they like to say now, attitude.

If you look at the later Air Jordans of the last ten or so years (34 versions and counting!), attitude meant bigger form factors and bolder colours. In fact, admiring the AJ1s now, it is hard to believe that they had, in fact, a far less bombastic design language than today’s wearers are used to. The ‘1’ was a rather simple, sneaker-looking shoe, not the ship-load that it became in later iterations, which may explain their appeal today. People could simply be sick of wearing sneakers that scream for attention for the sake of screaming for attention. The irony is that the AJ1, with its past-era simplicity and innocence, now garners attention for its clean-cut looks. In the present, I am not shouting, and certainly, not my kicks.

Air Jordan 1 Mid, from SGD179, and Air Jordan 1 Low, from SGD159, are available at select Nike retailers. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

This Big Kick

The confirmed return of hype

 

Air Dior July 2020

One thing that the pandemic has not been able to touch is hype. No matter how bad things have become, hype has been able to cut through the noise, except its own. Hype can fly with the sailing clouds, speed alongside underground trains, and dance with the daffodils, or lalangs. Hype can run with serious political news and reside amid tabloid gossips; it is, after all, news itself.

One particular sneaker has emerged as the undisputed king of hype. So hyped these kicks are, they don’t need to be named. They are Hype itself, beastlier than any hypebeast. They stand taller too, punching above the troposphere. They can even survive a bad PR communique.

Sure, talking about it here is fueling the hoopla, but perhaps we won’t be. WWD just reported that 5 million people signed up for Hype. That’s nearly the size of our population, but not the electorate! Reportedly, 13,000 pairs were produced, but only 8,000 pairs were available to the public as 5,000 were reserved for “top clients”. These probably include the celebrity friends of the designer, ballooning an already inflated hype.

Hype is expensive: (from) S$3,100 a pop. And Hype does not last—they just won’t. Hype is not about fashion or trends. Heck, Hype isn’t even trendy; it isn’t groundbreaking. It’s an old silhouette, an OG from 1985. But Hype can do no wrong because Hype is hype. It can’t help itself; it’s conceived that way.

Illustration: Just So