Dirty Is Stylish, Clean Is Not

’Tis the season of scruffy sneakers

An MRT commuter seen with a pair of stained Sperry canvas sneakers

By Ray Zhang

Pristine is passé, dirty is dapper. If what I have been seeing during my daily commutes in the MRT train these days is any indication, the more soiled your sneakers are, the more fashionable you will appear to be. Unclean is today’s ugly. You are probably saying the same thing: We have Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia to thank for this preference for the dirty deed, er, kicks. He is probably laughing every day now since the “fully destroyed” Paris canvas high-tops were launched and had gone viral. I have no idea who’d want to own the really hammered shoes (those are the really expensive ones. Most others are less destroyed [see below for an example]), but it seems that there is a flaming desire for the deliberately damaged, even when the shoes are generally slammed by Netizens.

For the longest time—since school days, in fact—I have this thing about clean sneakers, not just your regular clean, but immaculately clean: Not a spot, not a crease, I could appreciate. Which explains why, for the longest time, I would not buy white sneakers even when they were the kicks to wear. Till now, they are not only reminders of school days, they are canvases for grime and mud. It even took me a long time to accept white mid-soles. And the few sneakers that I own with that wide white underscore are always worn only when I carry in my pocket Crep wipes. So you can imagine my delight when, in Italy years ago, I bought my first Premiata sneakers with white mid-soles that were graffiti-ed—marvelous camouflage for filthy matter that must adhere down there.

Dirty preferred. Clockwise from top left: Golden Goose Super-Star, Balenciaga Paris high top, Autry Super Vintage Medalist, and Premiata Steven low top. Product photos: respective brands. Collage: Just So

As you know, Balenciaga did not only destroy the Paris sneakers, they’ve roughed up the Adidas Stan Smith, too. I won’t be surprised if there are more to come, but I think it would be bolder and more of a mockery, even arrogant if Balenciaga messes up their own iconic Triple S (although in latter iterations, some mid-soles did look somewhat dirtied, but definitely not destroyed! Ugly and dirty—double the cool?). To be sure, Mr Gvasalia is hardly the first designer to smear the spotlessness of new sneakers. One of the earliest to do so was Raf Simons on the collaborative Stan Smith (again Mr Gvasalia was not the first). I remember it well because, while I was oddly attracted to them (that perforated R!), I could not bear to part with good money to buy shoes that are scruffy before they’re worn. And by the time the really dirtier and scruffier Golden Goose ones came around in the early 2000s, I was still stuck with the stainless and sterilised.

I consider myself a fairly adventurous sneaker fan, but I stop before the toe box of those dirty and defiled. It is disconcerting to me if I wear kicks that are more stained than those seen on waste collectors (who, in my estate, are, conversely, very well and neatly shod!). While I understand that soiled sneakers reflect a don’t-give-a-shit attitude (that commensurate with today’s fashion and habits, such as placing shoes on a dining table, next to food) rather than a grubby appearance, I can’t subscribe to the “destroyed”, whether intentional or the result of wear and tear, or with a mission to “mock poverty”. “Vintage experience”, as it’s also called? Scuff marks are “decorative art”? What will be cool next? Holed and soiled socks?

Photo (top): A. B. Tan

Old-School, Yes!

They are not your plain white plimsolls, but neither are they some overwrought monstrosity

By Shu Xie

As sneakers become more outrageously styled, such as the Balmain B Bold, or the new, ridiculously hammered Balenciaga Paris sneakers, which are sold “destroyed”, I find myself gravitating towards simpler silhouettes that are undoubtedly pristine. I mean, shoes will get soiled eventually, even when you have a solid rotation in place. Okay, may be not soiled, but definitely scuffed. I know mine do. Perhaps, it’s also my tendency to attract those who love stepping on my feet. Sure, social distancing is, regrettably, no longer required, but must people come this close? Which also explains why I have no love for all-white sneakers. Not one bit. But I am easily attracted to those that are off-white (colour, not brand!) or cream, or shades of stone, from pebble to pumice.

Such as this pair by Novesta. This is from the Slovak brand’s Marathon Trail silhouette, a shoe that is much appreciated by aficionados of the decidedly old-school, such as the Loewe Flow Runner. It is essentially a running shoe with the ruggedness of a trail shoe and attended all-terrain outsole in a neat little package that has more than a whiff of retro. In fact, Novesta would be quick to say that this particular style is reminiscent of kicks produced during the era of Czechoslovak, the former sovereign state of Czech and Slovak in Central Europe.

Fans of vintage-y European running shoes, such as I, would be happy to know that Novesta, other than its exotic provenance, is linked to another major name in footwear that, too, has links to Czech and Slovak: Bata (yes, that Bata). In fact, Novesta was conceived by Jan Antonin Bata, one of the three siblings that founded The Bata Shoe Company in 1894. Till today, Novesta shoes are produced entirely in Europe, with some in Partizánske, the town where the brand began. Most of their shoes are low-key and low-tech, which lend their output immediate appeal.

The shoe’s main allure to me is its surprising lightness. The upper is made of mesh and suede, with unfussy overlays, including the contrast ‘pine’ that stretches from the eye-stays and laces to the collar and then the heel. This truly seals the deal for me. It continues to speak to my eagerness with its not-too-narrow toe box that is slightly rounded, and that striking underscore of the toothed outsole. In sum, the pair would encase my foot for a long while to come, on track or trail.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Novesta Marathon Trail in beige-pine, SGD189, is available at Goodluck Bunch. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Clean Cut

The latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Salomon collaboration is a beautifully simple silhouette

As if to mock the purposely-filthy ‘Paris’ sneaker launched by Balenciaga last week, Comme des Garçons released a very pristine version of a Salomon’s trail-runner, the SR90. The ongoing pairing (second, in fact) between the French sports/outdoor brand has yielded a surprisingly clean silhouette, sans CDG’s usual eye-opening redefining of what is considered acceptable for sneakers (SS19’s Nike Air Presto Foot Tent!) and still appeal to sneakerheads. Of course, no one seriously puts on a pair of CDG—or co-branded—kicks for sporting pursuits, so whatever tweaks or add-ons they introduce to a sneaker, fans will lap them up because they won’t look standard-issue. But, with this Salomon, CDG is suggesting that looking near-OG is on the right side of edginess too.

We are not a major fan of all-white sneakers (or, for that matter, all-black). Regular SOTD readers would know that. But the Comme Des Garçons X Salomon SR90’s whiteness is not nothingness, or too much a part of a school uniform. A trail sneaker that looks like a retro runner, the SR90 sports a contemporary sense of minimalism that is more akin to what might be offered at Jil Sander. But there is nothing basic about this shoe. Salomon’s much appreciated tech, the Contagrip sole (mixed compound for different terrains and better traction) and SensiFit mid-sole (for customised and secure fit), are there. So is a water-repellent synthetic upper. The sum: a handsome sneaker, if not to go with a set of tux, will definitely pair well with anything less pristine and neutral from CDG’s main line.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Comme des Garçons X Solomon SR90 sneakers, SGD450, are available in black or white at Comme Des Garçons and DSMS. Photo: Comme des Garçons/Solomon

Battered At Point Of Purchase

You can pay Balenciaga to wear out your shoes before even wearing them. Is pre-mature ageing the new cool?

Why wait till your sneakers get dirty and beaten up to wear them vis-à-vis current trends? With the rotations we give to our kicks, few— if ever—get really worn beyond fixable or recognisable. If you want your shoes to look like that have barely survived everything thrown at them, Balenciaga has just the pair for you. Their latest iteration of their Paris high-cuts are deliberately dirtied and ripped in the manner similar to how some new jeans looked severely soiled, like they were retailed after first allowing mechanics to wear them in their grimy workshops. Or, in the case of the Paris kicks, a chance with contestants in a dirt bike race! That Balenciaga would do this to its otherwise unblemished sneakers is understandable: They have a recent history of making ugly cool.

To be sure, Balenciaga is not the first to offer new dirty shoes. Back in 2016, Raf Simons released a pair of Stan Smith in collaboration with Adidas that was intentionally unclean. But they were not this soiled and tattered. Balenciaga’s remake of the cotton canvas, made-in-China Paris trainers are self-touted to be “fully destroyed”. For certain, the actual shoes do not look as down-at-the-heels as those seen in the publicity images now doing their obligatory online rounds. The worn-out pairs for sale are actually more descent and in a wearable state, although we do find the destruction a tad too calculated, even meticulous. That the Balenciaga name had to be inscribed on the mid-sole like a graffiti by a novice, and then smeared is really rather studied.

It is interesting, though, that Balenciaga has chosen the Paris sneakers to soil. The French capital was, from the 17th to 19th century, a filthy city, by many accounts of the time. According to Holly Tucker, author of City of Lights, City of Poison, “The filth of Paris was inescapable. It attached itself ruthlessly to clothes, the sides of buildings, and the insides of nostrils.” Why was this so? “Slosh from chamber pots thrown from windows mixed with dirt in the city’s unpaved streets to form a sulfurous-smelling stew”! The rues of the city were such an indiscriminate brown that even fashion was inspired by it, as well as the bugs that lived happily in the nasty grime. As one story went, a chestnut brown was popular in the summer of 1775. When King Louis XVI saw it, he exclaimed, “That is puce!” Or, (the colour of) fleas. Puce became the veritable fashion. And, now, Balenciaga’s Paris too.

Balenciaga ‘Paris’ sneakers, SGD895 are available in stores and online. Product photo*: Balenciaga. Photo Illustration: Just So

*Actual product differs

Carabiner Swoosh!

The Air Force 1 is given even more outdoor cred

It is not good enough that the Nike Air Force 1 is the favourite of fashion folks and designers alike. It now has to appeal to those for whom a utilitarian touch in the end product is crucial. Although much has been done to the Swoosh (it morphed into a shark on the SB Dunk High Pro!), there has not been a functional add-on. Until now. The latest appears on the AF1 and is a Swoosh-shaped carabiner that seems to be inspired by the thunderbolt. It is fastened to outline the appliquéd version on the upper of the familiar shoe. You’d think this is an output or update from the Off-White studio, but it’s not. This is, as we understand it, a release under the main brand, as model ’07 PRM.

The carabiner would, no doubt, be the big draw here. It’s affixed to the lateral side of the shoe through four paracord loops stitched under the Swoosh. The carabiner is removable as the Swoosh-shaped ring comes with a spring catch. Many of the AF1 enthusiasts are excited about how the carabiner could hold, apart from keys (really?), charms and little soft toys, such as those now seen dangling from bags. Could this be levelling up the zip ties that Off-White made popular in their collabs with Nike? We are, however, more inclined to use the carabiner to fasten the shoes to, say our belt loops!

If, for some reason, you are not planning to use the fancy carabiners, you could stash them away in a secret zippered pouch under each tongue. Additional receptacle that is far more discreet—and less alluring to thieves—than those pouches that sit atop laces of some trending kicks. Handy storage has indeed come to sneakers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nike Air Force 1 Low ’01 PRM, SGD229, is available at the Foot Locker. Illustration: Just So

Court Case: He Showed Up In These

Charged with taking monetary perks to reserve limited-edition kicks for resellers, Muhammad Faiz Amy Jasman appeared before the judge in a pair of just-as-limited Nike X Off-White Rubber Dunk

He had his day in court, so did his sought-after shoes. Former sneaker sales assistant Muhammad Faiz Amy Jasman willingly accepted payment for reserving limited-edition kicks at the now-shuttered AW Lab for two resellers, who traded them for profits. That is, simply put, the taking of bribes. When he appeared in court yesterday to hear the sentencing after he pleaded guilty to one charge of corruption, he showed he knows his limited-edition sneakers, especially those from trending collaborations. A photo in Today offered a clear view of Mr Jasman arriving at the State Courts in a pair of Nike X Off-White Rubber Dunk, in “University Blue”, complete with the signature orange zip-tie left visibly intact.

The Nike X Off-White Rubber Dunk was launched in February 2020, but the colourway that Mr Jasman happily wore to his sentencing was dropped in October 2020 as an “Europe exclusive” (it was also available, according to Nike, in the Middle East and Africa). At that time, the regular retail price for the shoes was US$180 (or about S$245). The Rubber Dunk, a mashup of the Nike Pegasus line and the Nike Dunk, is now asking for more than S$600 among online resellers, with a Farfetch listing priced at S$1,631. It is not known if Mr Jasman acquired his pair from AW Lab, a store known to carry limited-edition sneakers in colourways that were released, as Nike describes, “with exclusive regional availability”—mainly Europe, where the Bata-owned retailer has about 200 stores. According to his lawyer, Mr Jasman wanted to make a quick buck in order to support his family; he does not, apparently, splurge on luxuries. Perhaps S$245 is nothing, compared to, say, S$3,100 for the Nike X Dior Air Jordan 1.

Muhammad Faiz Amy Jasman. Illustration: Just So

According to news reports, Mr Jasman received a total of S$5,295 in “reservation fees” from two individuals. In the year that the Nike X Off-White Rubber Dunk was made available globally, he was working at the Wisma Atria outlet of AW Lab in basement one. Initially, he listed a pair of unidentified sneakers on Carousell. A man named Brian Fong responded, and when he was told that Mr Jasman worked at AW Lab, asked if the latter could reserve sneakers on his behalf, with additional “fees” offered for each pair. An arrangement was made. Mr Fong would transfer the monies—cost of the shoes and the attendant “fees”—into the bank account of Mr Jasman’s wife, who would make the purchases at the Wisma Atria store. Mr Fong would later collect the sneakers from her. Mr Fong reportedly bought a total of 49 pairs through Mr Jasman in this manner. Another reseller who similarly secured shoes from the ex-AW Lab staffer was Meng Fanxuan. Mr Jasman was fined S$10,000 and was also made to pay a penalty tantamount to the bribes he took. Mr Meng was fined for his part in the scheme, but it is not known if Mr Fong has been charged.

At the time of its launch, the Nike X Off-White Rubber Dunk, discernible by its overlays and offsets, was described by the media as “a real winner”. Wearing a pair on the day of his court appearance, Muhammad Faiz Amy Jasman was perhaps saying he was a winner too: He did not have to do time.

Photo: Nike

Not Against Type

…but still appealing. Beyond the Vines introduces cotton canvas sneakers

Beyond the Vines has done good things with the humble cotton canvas. Their Carryall 01 in this fabric, for example, is an east-west tote that deserves much more attention than it really gets. It’s simple and smart, and those are the qualities that the brand has extended to their debut line of footwear, Type 01 (never mind that Nike, too, has a ‘Type’), also made with similar cotton canvas. In view of the unceasing love of bombastically-designed footwear, these lace-ups may look a tad too low-key, even juvenile, but their classic construction would stand them in good stead, in the face of constantly shifting trends.

Made of a 12-oz plain-weave canvas, also known as cotton duck, these sneakers are available only in one style, but it is the colour-blocked pair that spoke to us. Sure, they are nothing like the more daring chromatic schemes of Moonstar X Fennica kicks (available at Beams, Japan). Or the whimsical Comme des Garçons Play X Converse All-Stars, with the now-recognisable smiley-hearts, or the ‘Converse Addict’, which is N.Hoolywood reimagining the Chuck Taylor with archival fabrics of Undercover. Or, for those with edgier taste, the more advanced silhouette of the OAMC ‘Inflate’, with the exaggerated rubber corridor. Nope, Type 01 is not cast against type. They are, without doubt, classic plimsolls, but the subtle colour blocking does set them apart. And with the nicely rounded, slightly pointed toe box, perhaps the ideal shoes to strut into the New Year.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Beyond the Vines Type 01 canvas sneakers, SGD139, are available for men and women, in stores and online. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Growl: The Tiger Cometh

Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger can’t wait for the Lunar New Year to arrive

You would expect that, with 2022 being the Year of the Tiger (from 1 February, of course), many brands will be releasing tiger-themed products. And you’d expect rightly. One of the earliest to announce their adoption of the tiger for a capsule collection is Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger. But that is not surprising. In five days’ time, it’d be what the brand calls the “Year of the Onistsuka Tiger”. As it coincides with the Chinese zodiac tiger, this occasion comes only once every 12 years. A symbol of the brand, the tiger—confident, brave, and thrill-seeking—would be seen not only on shoes, but in a limited range of fashion items for those born in the year of the tiger or those who consider the panthera tigris its spirit animal. These include tees and hoodies, socks, and bags.

But the most eye-catching and desirable would likely be the Serrano sneaker with the tiger-stripe upper. At first glance, the interpretation looks a tad too literal to us, even for Chinese New Year! But we are not, admittedly, big fans of animal prints. However they are used, they frequently would result in a form that borders on the camp. And to us, the Serrano of the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger is no exception. In fact, the more we look at it, the more it reminded us of another shoe: the yellow and black Mexico 66. Yes, the pair worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, a movie with such deliciously intense artifice that even the gory revenge and growling violence cannot dial the camp down.

It is not yet known when the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger capsule would be launched. Watch this space for updates. Product photo: Onitsuka Tiger. Photo Illustration: Just So

Balenciaga’s New Kicks

…is a monster truck of a shoe. Let the ugliness go on

Balenciaga, it seems, is bent on sticking to ugly and freakish sneakers. Their soon-to-be-released style, known as the Defender, presumably tries to reprise the Triple-S and Track’s ridiculous massiveness and their busy overlays (also seen in the Tyrex), and, in doing so, also duplicate their just-as-large success. First seen during the brand’s red-carpet-as-runway spring/summer 2022 presentation in October, the Defender appears to be the hunkiest of Balenciaga’s footwear releases, in line with the still large silhouette of their apparel. There is no reversing the course for Balenciaga: the bigger the better. Only now for the new shoe, avuncular is cooler than dad-like.

But is the overall shape of the Defender really new? When we first saw the profile images of the shoe, we thought of MBT immediately! Yes, the Swiss(!) “physiological footwear” brand known for their chunky shoes and curved soles. According to the company’s sales literature, their shoes and the unique soles—such as those seen in the brand’s Kibo GTX—offer “your body benefits from (the) extensive MBT technology” which “ensures a complete rolling movement (that) improves your balance and posture.” Such curve-soled footwear are also popular known as “rocker bottom shoes”. It isn’t known if the Balenciaga Defender offers any physiological benefit, but they will likely provide psychological advantage to those for whom being ostentatiously shod is comfort to their very being.

Balenciaga Defender is expected to launch next year. Price TBC. Photo: Balenciaga

What Would Your Parents Say?

If putting one’s feet on a table during meal times is rude, is placing one’s shoes alongside food any better?

This image appeared on our Instagram page, and it shocked us. It really did. That it came from Club 21 was even more disturbing. We thought it shameful, so inconsistent with what many of us were brought up to believe is acceptable. The oldest multi-label store here left standing has, a few hours ago, shared this on their official IG account, not in some remote corner of the Internet. Originally posted by Two Men Bagel House last week, it shows unambiguously a pair of plated (!) Comme des Garçons X Converse sneakers, placed next to two bowls of barely finished dry prawn noodles (虾面). It is possible that the shoes are unworn (and presumably clean), but is it still perfectly alright for them to be on a table that has, by practice and custom, no place for footwear? This is likely photographed in a hawker centre (or foodcourt), but just because it’s not in a setting that equals that of a restaurant does not mean liberties can be taken without thinking. To make it worse, Club 21 wrote in the comment: “simply delicious”! Have we really become so culturally ignorant and insensitive?

Popular culture, TikTok buffoonery, and the general do-and-say-as-you-please that social media affords may allow marketers to imagine that they have the green light to ignore table manners, but that does not mean marketing with a nod to common etiquette is no longer important. Or, worth considering in the quest for eye-catching photos or, worse, talking points. We risk sounding prudish and custom-bound, but in a time when brands and politicians are knocking, for example, the traditional use of chopsticks, should there be more perplexing ignorance regarding table-top practices? It is easy to dismiss the Club 21 post as the work of benighted Millennials (or Gen-Zers?), but that does not allow the image to be more acceptable. We could not unsee what we saw. That this did not come from some ignorant Western brand makes Club 21’s faux pas (and that of the two men they sponsored) all the more difficult to understand and accept. We are unaware of anywhere in Asia where shoes of any sort on a table used for meals, whether in one’s home or not, is decent or tolerable. Half of smiley-hearts do not take away the fact that the very act is crude and—ask any parent—rude.

Screen grab: Club 21/Instagram

Nothing Fancy

And that is the way many like it

Regular readers of SOTD would have noticed that we’ve been rather partial to retro-looking sneakers that do not appear to be sitting on a mountain of cushioning technology. Or, worse, contraptions that pass of as heels (in fact, enough of fancy rears or mid-soles that gape!). Sneaker designs have had so much “ugly” piled on them that these days we’re looking at ‘classic’ as a palate cleanser. One of the brands that do this classic we speak of really well is the often sidelined Reebok. And the most alluring we have seen this past month is the leather version of the unisex Legacy, which Reebok enthusiastically calls “rad ’80s running style reimagined”. Yes, not looking at the ’90s, as fashion seems to be this season, is a good thing.

And reimagine, Reebok sure did. The Legacy seems to be lifted from the past (even as far back as the ’70s), yet it is has a spirit about it that is contemporary. Perhaps it is the colour combo of this particular pair: four tones of what might be called earth shades, plus that grassy green that Reebok intriguingly—and invitingly—names midnight pine. It is a colour that is dark enough (but not black) to give the shoe visual heft and provides an effective base (nylon) on which the overlays (suede) criss cross beautifully. Even with the many pieces that form the upper, the Legacy is light and looks sleek yet modest, even reserved. Without doubt, the humbler looking, the better.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reebok Classic Leather Legacy in stucco/midnight pine/sepia, SGD129, is available at Reebok, Orchard Central. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Bejewelled Or Blemished?

Nike’s latest collaboration with crystal maker Swarovski is an Air Force 1 with strange surface protrusions

By Shu Xie

Among Nike’s many reimagined sneakers, the Air Force 1 seems, to me, to be receiving the most collaborative makeovers. And here is another AF1 iteration: with the Austrian producer of crystal glass Swarovski. This collab, the third (if I remember correctly) between the two brands, is not quite what I would expect from a purveyor of bling. Unlike the Dunk from last year, which was completely covered with crystals, or the Air Max 97 from this past March, which was not entirely smothered (and this time with crystals so tiny, they could have been dust), sneak-peeks of the AFI show that it comes with something entirely different. As I see it, the shoes have a second skin. And it is an outer that really obscures the recognisable silhouette of the Nike classic. Looking like something that could have been 3-D printed, this membrane immediately makes me forget that the AF1 is the first among Nike’s sneakers from the ’80s to incorporate the brand’s Air cushioning technology.

But that is not really what I find most intriguing. It is what’s on the overlay. The amoeba-shaped piece with fancy cut-outs is dotted with silver ball-studs that look pressed into tiny bulbs on the surface of this second skin. These are not Valentino’s Rockstuds or those spikes on Christian Louboutin kicks. Frankly, they look like pimples to me. Like blackheads! Still there is something oddly appealing about this AF1. I think I am drawn to the fact that the extra layer can be taken apart. Yes, by removing the screws on the mid-sole that hold the additional skin down. They are flat-top screws and each pair of the sneakers come with a screwdriver, should you need to do some handyman’s work. These days, the Nike basketball shoes for women do not only come with trinkets to feminise the kicks (the Blazer Mid LX, for example), they are now dressed with a flashy, removable cloak. Shoelaces, even fancy ones, are really not enough.

Update (20 November 2021, 18:00): The Nike X Swarovski Air Force 1 will be available on Nike.com on 2 December, from 10am

No official release date of this collab is announced. Watch this space for more information. Product photo: Nike. Photo illustration: Just So