“If You Want A Pair, You Have To Buy Two”

From the look of the box, you’d never guess, there’s only one shoe inside

By Shu Xie

The cheerful salesperson at the Lego store was very quick to tell me, even before I could complete my question, that there is only one shoe in the box with the flip-up lid, not a pair. Frankly, I didn’t know that. I have never bought a single shoe before, nor do I know that shoes are sold singly! The recognisable blue boxes—stacked on the floor, as you might find in a shoe shop—certainly look like the regular ones: there is room in each for two. As if to placate my disappointment, she added helpfully, “you can choose right or left side”. Choose? They come as right or left? “No, but you can fix it as a right shoe or left.” Such thoughtful option! But when I looked at the built-up sneaker, placed on top of a shoe box in the acrylic showcase, I couldn’t tell if it was the left or the right (there is apparently a separate bag with the right parts for you to get the side you want). Despite the “real shoelaces” that Lego proudly announced, it appeared as it was—unwearable.

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar is the toy maker’s first sneaker that is built with their plastic bricks, and conceived for adults. Adidas and Lego have collaborated before. There were shoes and even clothing (for kids, if I remember correctly), but never has there been the toy footwear. Like most of their special-edition items, Lego’s take on the Superstar is for display only. It is massive for a toy shoe—at least men’s size 15, I thought! But since it’s 27-centimetres in length, they are really a very common US size 9 (UK 8 or Euro 42.5), which would sit nicely on top of a book case. It comes with all the logos and trademarks to make it look “authentic”. And, you can even customise it with whatever bricks you already have so that they do not need to look monochromatic. It also comes with a clear stand so that you can prop up the heel (as seen in the photo above). A small plaque with description is also issued, so that the less informed will not mistake it for a Stan Smith!

At S$149.90, the one-sided Lego Adidas Originals Superstar (with a total of 731 pieces) is actually more expensive than the wearable version. I didn’t think it would be, but it is. At the Foot Locker, the regular Superstar in the same colour combination can be bought for S$139. An enticing bargain? But, soon to be released is a very real iteration of the Lego-fied Superstar—in a synthetic upper, but with no buildable parts. The Adidas Superstar X Lego costs S$200, or S$100 a side. A replica of a replica! And a price to match, but still cheaper than its plastic cousin!

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar, SGD149.90, is available at Lego stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay/SOTD

Return Of The Rockstud

Valentino’s beloved sneaker is back. With the help of Craig Green, it is looking its handsome best

Looks like it is through collaborations that you can create winning products. Valentino’s once-popular Rockstud range of shoes, bags, and accessories has had its halcyon days. In recent years, with the popularity of monograms, old and new, on almost anything, details such as studs have less drawing power. Valentino, aware that their cash cow Rockstud needs a makeover or “re-signification”, as the brand calls it, approached the star British men’s wear designer Craig Green to reimagine the sneaker version as footwear that would appeal to guys who are no longer drawn to a surfeit of fancy hardware on their kicks, such as Christian Louboutin’s once all-the-rage Spikes. Valentino calls this collaboration an era-appropriate “cultural exchange”.

Rockstud is almost a sub-brand in itself, much like Nike’s Jordan. Last year, Valentino celebrated its 10th anniversary with an announcement that they would open the Rockstud to chosen creatives to re-imagine the use of the house detail. Mr Green is the first to come onboard, as the “Rockstud X becomes a white canvas for new imaginary landscapes”, according to a press release at that time. Characterised by mainly metal pyramidal studs, Rockstud was an instant hit for Valentino. It’s introduction in 2010 in the form of heeled footwear was received enthusiastically. The almost punk studs contrasted effectively with Valentino’s usually ultra-feminine styles. And then came the Rockrunner, the kicks that would augment the growing obsession with luxury sneakers throughout the 2010s.

Mr Green has made the limited-edition Rockstud less a stud of a shoe. The upper is in surprisingly humble knit that looks rather perforated. With widely placed lacing, it sits on a rubber base that is almost entirely Rockstudded, except that Mr Green has removed any extraneous hardware and worked the studs (now oversized, and in rows and separated by what could be parentheses) as part of the entire sole, making the silhouette sturdy-looking and well grounded. This must the least flashy iteration of the Rockstud so far, yet it’s easily the Batmobile of shoes!

Valentino X Craig Green Rockstud, USD1,295.00. is available in four colours on valentino.com. Product photo: Valentino

The Wings On The Tongues

Nike’s latest iteration of their classic Air Force 1 is inspired by its namesake goddess. And it is poised to take flight

Nike has released some unusual versions of their Air Force 1 kicks for women. They are usually in colours not typically found in the men’s or in offbeat colour blocking, and so appealing that guys are often disappointed that those for them are left out of the chromatic makeover. Now, it’ll soon be releasing the Air Force 1 in the non-colour of pristine white, plus a little unexpected detail: a slip of a wing on the tongue of the shoe, peeking from beneath the crisscrossed lace. Given the overall ruggedness of one of Nike’s most recognisable kicks, this is a rather delicate touch, like a butterfly beginning to emerge from a chrysalis.

But Nike’s newest kicks are not inspired by a winged insect, rather by a winged goddess, specifically its namesake Greek deity, also known as the (seemingly trending) Winged Victory of Samothrace. Nike calls this version of the AF1 Goddess of Victory, dropping the suggestion of flight appendages in the moniker. Yet this able goddess is known for its visible wings (at least seen in the Hellenistic sculpture that resides in the Louvre). So Nike couldn’t avoid the wings. The tip of one is affixed visibly on the part of the shoe that, ironically, could be hidden under the hems of pants.

This isn’t the first time Nike has dedicated the AF1 to the (Winged) Goddess of Victory. In March, they launched the first version that was unlike anything the brand has done before. The upper of the shoe was given an additional layer. A rather scrunched up, paper-like fabric was sort of ‘pasted’ on top. On it was a blue drawing of the statue as seen in the Louvre. Nike described this as work based on the “folk art of paper cutting”. In fact, we think this version is more unusual and more eye-catching. And it isn’t the first time that wings are attached to sneakers. Back in the 2010s, Jeremy Scott partnered with Adidas (they are reportedly pairing again) to release a basketball shoe known unambiguously as Wings—a cartoonish version attached to the eyelets of the shoe and secured with the laces.

The wings of the AF1 Goddess of Victory is a sheer, exoskeleton appendage that veils the mesh padding of the tongue and extends beyond the tip (the Nike label on the tongue is still there). When worn, we suspect it could be mistaken for the lace trims of some fancy socks! The shoe’s upper comes in Epi leather and has been described as “premium”. It is not yet known if this is natural or synthetic. But if there’s anything a goddess deserves, it’s the real deal.

No release date is currently available. Check nike.com for details. Photos: Nike

Can Balenciaga’s New X-Pander Be The Next Triple S?

Loud, waiting-to-be-stepped-on sneakers may still be selling, but some of us are suffering from fancy footwear fatigue

No matter how we look at the X-Pander, Balenciaga’s new sneakers, they appear to us like kicks trapped in some contraption. Regardless of the angle too. Could this be a shoe ensnared in a rodent trap? Or one stuck in a Brannock device, the instrument used to measure a person’s shoe size? Is the rear elevation a high heel? Or a visible heel lift? Can you walk, let alone run in them? Balenciaga, of course, has been churning sneakers that defy conventional silhouettes, but it has not quite needed superfluous engineering. What’s really with the Track-looking shoe on a hydraulic lift? Or a car jack? Is this hi-tech gone mad? Or as the Chinese would say, zuo huo ru muo (走火入魔, to go overboard)?

With a shoe looking like that, questions naturally plaque the X-Pander. The crucial part: what is the “suspended heel” for? We have not seen the actual shoe, so we can only go by enthusiastic media reports. Apparently when worn, the heel of the X-Pander—mounted on a spring—extends, but take a step and rest your heel, it compresses, and your heel is back to the ground. Up, down, up, down, it goes. What all that mechanical action does for your walk (or run, if you’re so inclined) isn’t really clear. Some reports say that the rear set-up is to “ensure optimal comfort and cushioning”. How true that is can’t be determined by just looking at the pictures.

Already, the fashion press is calling the X-Pander “the next street-style blockbuster”. We’re expecting it to be frighteningly popular, of course, but would it influence the future design of sneaker heels not already changed by Nike X Sacai’s split/gaping version for the Vaporwaffle? When the Balenciaga Triple S was launched in 2017, many thought it was outrageously clunky, but it made other sneaker brands take notice. Dad shoes, as they became known, soon ruled, and more abominable kicks emerged. Every brand with a worthy sneaker had their own take on the Triple S. Huge and bombastic shoes blasted their way into popular taste. After four long years, satiated we really have become. And jelak too.

Balenciaga X-Pander, SGD$1,790, is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Product photo: Balenciaga. Photo illustration: Just So

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