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

These Fraternal Twins

Onitsuka Tiger X Anrealage

Sometimes it’s more interesting if a pair of shoes is not identical. Sure, you risk making the wanbao headline, wondering if you’ve succumbed to some mental stress, or colleagues and friends speculating that it was still dark when you left your flat in the morning, but with everyone going for the same NMDs or Yeezys, wouldn’t that be a bit of fun?

And fun is, perhaps, the operative word for this Onitsuka Tiger and Anrealage collaboration. This pair (of two styles dropped, both known as ‘Tiger Monte Z’) is touted as the world’s first “augmented reality sneakers”.

Frankly, we’re not sure if AR for sneakers is any use other than some limited visual fun. We tried this pair but weren’t impressed by the AR component enough to download the app required to give it a spin. Somehow, we sense that our relationship with the digital link to the shoe would end up like that of Pokemon Go: no play.

But if you’re intrigued enough, this is how it works. Download the app (a surprising 300MB!), and through the screen of your handphone directed at the shoe (online reports state that only the left side works), the logo of Anrealage “pops”. As this draw your attention, mixed tape of music put together by the Hokkaido band Sakanaction is temporary replacement of your Spotify playlist. Yes, a little low on the excitement factor.

We’re, therefore, more enticed by the unalike uppers of this pair of ‘Tiger Monte Z’. True to Anrealage’s off-centre aesthetic, their kicks with Onitsuka Tiger is a step in the direction of the less ordinary. The sock-like shape with a pronounced tongue could be a truncated, Frankenstein cousin of the Chelsea boot.

What’s a boon to those who like to customize things is the lacing (not required to secure the shoe), which allows one to create any pattern on the gradated perforation. Perfect for boring plane rides?

Onitsuka Tiger X Anrealage ‘Tiger Monte Z’, SGD229, is available at Onitsuka Tiger, Suntec City. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Sneaker Makeover: The Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary Stand-Out Collaboration


Onitsuka Tiger Strpes sketchOnitsuka Tiger Stripes are not three parallel lines (or five!) that have dominated athletic shoes of certain European origins. Theirs are, in fact, not entirely linear: a pair of curved lines that splits from a joined stroke emerging from the heel criss-crosses two straight, nearly parallel lines that stretches downwards from the lace guard, all ending in the mid sole. To date, the stripes are unlike anything seen on sneakers. They’re unique and, although not consistent with those on the big cat in its name, are as organic as any you might find in nature. To us, the composition with a nod to asymmetry also recalls the sensuous lines of ikebana.

There is, however, a less poetic backstory to the birth of the Stripes. As Onitsuka Tiger tells it, the Stripes were one of five final selections picked from a 1966 design competition that saw more than 200 entries. The aesthetic appeal of the five designs were not enough, they were subjected to tests by athletes and experts from Kyoto University to determine their performance worthiness. The Stripes that we’re now familiar with won. Onitsuka Tiger said that the “encompassing concept, integrating the design’s vertical stripes into the lacing, brought more stability to the surface material and significantly improved the shoe’s fit and durability – factors that turned out to have a direct impact on athletic performance.”

The newly selected Onitsuka Tiger Stripes did not make an immediate entrance into the marketplace until 1968 at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico, where the whole Japanese contingent entered the stadium in the newly minted Mexico Delegation shoe. Japan, interestingly, had hosted the previous Games, and it is understandable that they would want to make a dramatic entrance as sort of a follow-through. The Stripes made a conspicuous debut on the world stage, and the Mexico sneakers would become one of the most popular shoes to first appear at an Olympic event.

Onitsuka Tiger @ Peddar on ScottsThe Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition at Peddar on Scotts. Photo: Galerie Gombak

It’s been 50 years since the Stripes were picked to sweep down the outside quarter of Onitsuka Tiger shoes. While they have not enjoyed marketing zeal to the extent of, say, the Swoosh, they’re still very much part of the identity of these Japanese sneakers that have stood on their own in a sea of European and American brands. For the golden celebrations here in Singapore, Onitsuka Tiger has teamed up with footwear retailer Pedder on Scotts for a special commemoration, M66: Of Different Stripes, where 50 Singapore-based “creatives” interpret the Mexico 66 (once known as the Limber trainers)—in a pairing called the ‘All White Kicks’ Collab—to celebrate the birth of the Stripes.

Fifty may not be a grand number, but given Singapore’s lean creative population, it is large enough to cast a spotlight on the state of creativity on our island. Try as we did, it was hard to suss out an interpretation that could have us excited. These were the works of a motley group, comprising fashion designers, illustrators, stylists, and media types, and their contributions were very much a reflection of the type of work they already do. There was no discernible stretch of the creative muscle.

However, one shoe did truly stand high on its heel: a completely morphed version worthy of an anime hero by the designer Vik Lim. Here’s a pair that literally towered above every other contributor’s shoe; a transmogrified urban-gladiator-sandal-turn-power-sneaker. Mr Lim, who is presently the research and innovation manager at Williams-Sonoma Group, has created a sort of shield at the top-front of the Mexico 66 without obscuring the key identifier of Onitsuka Tiger sneakers: the Stripes.

Vik Lim X Onitsuka TigerDesigner Vik Lim’s striking reinterpretation of the Mexico 66. Photo: Onitsuka Tiger

Extending the leather of the upper from the front—atop the lacing (thus using the laces as fastening)—with an external tongue, he’s made a low-cut sneaker into a near-boot, offering a message that speaks with the same enthusiasm as stickers in place of text in digital messaging. This cut-and-stitch approach essentially explores one question: What can I do as a creative person that isn’t what is expected of us all? At the opening of the exhibition, Mr Lim was overheard telling an appreciative guest, “This is minimal work with maximum impact. I didn’t want to do anything to the shoe itself since it’s a classic sneaker.”

So he built upon it instead, perhaps to deliberately stay clear of the paint, draw, or embellish approach that others were expected to do. True to his dressmaking background, the added upper was first drafted on paper before the design was traced onto the leather to be cut. This is to ensure precise fit and the right proportion that will not diminish the actual shoe. Each piece was then assembled by hand, and it was perceptible that the execution bore the flair of a seasoned cobbler.

There are essentially two versions, but for the exhibition, Mr Lim took one from each to form an asymmetric pair. They are distinguished by the kid leather tongues—one, a sort of trapezoid with rounded edges and the other, fringed as in the kiltie of golf shoes—and the height of the ankle straps. From afar, they reminded us of the leather tabi—Japanese socks that are worn with traditional clogs or slippers—from the late Momoyama (Peach Hill) period (mid-16th century), when the military elite of the shogunate rallied for an alternative beauty of rustic simplicity. Interestingly, there was a sock-like sneaker that Onitsuka Tiger issued in 1953 called ‘Marathon Tabi’, but this is visually unrelated.

That Mr Lim had infused his design with a discernible Japanese aesthetic is hardly surprising. Having trained in the ateliers of Hiroko Koshino from 1988 to 1989, and won the first prize of the Asia Collection Makuhari Grand Prix in 1998, Mr Lim’s affinity to Japanese visual elegance is understandable. His designs for the Kimono Kollab of recent years were testament to his penchant for bringing modern sensibility to old-world craft. And his overlay for the Mexico 66 continues to pay homage to the brand’s Japanese roots, while not playing down his love for decidedly hand-spun and low-tech approach to design.

Vik Lim X Onitsuka Tiger pic 2The tongues and and straps of the overlays of Vik Lim X Onitsul Tiger Mexico 66 at the Pedder on Scotts exhibition. Photo: Galerie Gombak

The result is a re-imagined Mexico 66 that would not be out of place with the collections of Rick Owens, Craig Green, or the old master, Yohji Yamamoto, and is clearly not for the skinny-jeans brigade. It is also in keeping with the spirit of sneaker designs today: classic, old-school, and not rigidly structured. Yet, there are those who sneer at his shoe’s lack of bombast, and at its too-drastic reworking of the base silhouette.

This, to us, is reminiscent of the re-workings of iconic shoe designs attempted by other brands that, interestingly, did not incur the dismay of sneaker fanatics. In the fall season of 2008, for instance, Comme des Garçons released a pair of sneakers in collaboration with Nike that took aficionados by surprise. It was a take on the Nike Dunk High (an NBA court staple), but no one had guessed that it was. With an enveloping leather upper held together by a zip where laces should be, they looked like work boots or, if you’re more imaginative, galoshes! The basketball-shoe birth identity was nearly obliterated. Although no longer available, it remains much sort-after among collectors.

If creativity, as it’s often said, is bringing something new to an existing form, then Vik Lim X Onitsuka Tiger’s Mexico 66 is creativity persuasively expressed. While others succumb to indolence by filling blank spaces between the shoe’s toe box, stripes, and the criss-cross heel counter with scribbles, splashes, and even stickers (Daiso?), here is a designer who perceived the world differently in order to uncover unexpected shapes and to link ostensibly disparate elements in an eye-opening way. This, perhaps, is no different to what founder of the brand Kihachiro Onitsuka saw one summer evening in 1951, when he ate a bowl of salad with octopus, and realised he could mimic the creature’s concave suckers on the sole of shoes. Who knew the fated-to-be-sushi tako could inspire?

The Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition, M66: Of Different Stripes, is on at Peddar on Scotts till 14 August 2016.

Floral In The Twill

Asics Gel Lyte V Floral Denim

Denim for sneakers is not a new idea. Most of the denims used for sport shoes have been the regular cloth we see in jeans. They could be raw, bleached, or distressed, but they have not been given a treatment such as these on the Asics Gel Lyte V, a reiteration using Japanese textile, proudly declared on a fabric hang tag that’s secured to the shoe’s eyelet.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t quite denim (it looks more like Oxford to us), but the twill weave and the blue is extremely similar. When paired with a pair of denim jeans, the kindred spirit is inescapable. What makes it unusual is the floral pattern interwoven into the fabric, a treatment also seen in the same shoe model released as “Bamboo”, both a reminder to the uninitiated of Asics’s Japanese founding and heritage.

While some brands are investing in technology that can make the most unusual knits or the most ornate technical jacquards, Asics have been giving some creative treatments to traditional twills. The floral denim is innovation habit that has also seen the introduction of dark denim with polka dots (on the Gel Lyte III). This should work in Asics’s favour considering how well liked Japanese denims are.

The Gel Lyte V was first released in 1993 and feature Asics’s gel cushioning and a fit that has been described as “sock-like”. The combined features have placed the Gel Lyte V as one of the best running shoes of all time, inducing sneaker giants such as Ronnie Fieg to produce their own interpretations. We’re not sure how prominent this shoe is on the running track, but with the floral denim, we’re sure they will be seen a lot on city pavements.

Asics Gel Lyte V “Floral Denim” for men and women, SGD189, is available at Onitsuka Tiger, Pedder on Scotts, Star 360 and select stockists. Photo: Jim Sim

Winter Style 2: East Meets West

Onitsuka Tiger X Andrea Pompilio Sweat Zip Parka

Onitsuka Tiger X Andrea Pompilio ‘Sweat Zip Parka’

By Raiment Young

I have been paying attention to winter wear these days because it seems to me that increasingly those who choose to holiday in colder climes fill their suitcases with kit from Uniqlo. Nothing wrong with that, of course: Uniqlo makes practical and functional winter clothes that are amazingly affordable. For basics such as their Heattech Innerwear, they’re hard to beat for wearability, comfort, and price. But sometimes, one does want to stay away from the obvious choices even if only to avoid the likelihood of sitting next to someone in the plane wearing the same pocketable Ultra Light Down Jacket.

My search in the past weeks has taken me to sportswear labels rather than fashion brands, and sometimes I encounter a meeting of the two. One of the most appealing is the collaboration of Japanese label Onitsuka Tiger and the Italian designer Andrea Pompilio. This isn’t their first partnership. In fact, the coming together of these two brands dates back to the spring/summer 2013 season. Hitherto, it has been the footwear that seems to be gaining attention and following. If only more shoppers take a step up and give the clothes a chance in the fitting room.

Onitsuka Tiger X Andrea Pompilio Sweat Zip Parka close upCloseup of the details of the ‘Sweat Zip Parka’

At the newly opened Onitsuka Tiger store in Suntec City, one item that caught my approving eye was the Sweat Zip Parka, an asking-to-be-cuddled outer that stands apart from the rest with its lower half of the right sleeve in a contrasting black, picking up from the same colour of the college crest in the shape of a tiger’s face. Upon closer examination, I realised that the hood can be unzipped to be removed. Underneath is a rather unusual ribbed crew neck that, when worn with a same-tone sweatshirt inside, will yield an athleisure twinset!

This does not appear to typify the Andrea Pompilio ready-to-wear line. The street vibe seems to take its cue from otaku culture. The collection (sadly there were no more than five styles available in the store for both men and women), in fact, wouldn’t be alien to those who throng Tokyo’s Akihabara. Perhaps Mr Pompilio is stretching himself so that he’s able to go beyond the aesthetic he has fine-tuned from those years with Prada and Calvin Klein. Sometimes, one has to explore the other side, dark or otherwise.

Onitsuka Tiger X Andrea Pompilio Sweat Zip Parka, SGD499, is available at Onitsuka Tiger, Suntec City. Photos: Onitsuka Tiger


The Other Tweed Sneak

OT X AP AW 2014 tweed shoe

If you ask us, and we know you didn’t, but we’ll say it anyway, these sneakers in tweed are much more interesting than those by a certain couture house that has aroused the passion of the fashionistas of the world. What’s more crucial than the fancy fabric is that they look and feel like you can really do sports in them. Even if you’re not going to put them through the rigours of a workout (other than that on the dance floor), it is good to know that are made of sterner stuff. And they should be since they’re manufactured by Onitsuka Tiger, the 65 year-old Japanese label that has a long tradition of making groundbreaking athletic shoes.

While many Onitsuka Tiger trainers now appear to be from another era, this tweed version of their best-selling Colorado 85 series does not. Conceived in collaboration with the Italian designer Andrea Pompilio, it sidesteps vintage sensibilities for fashion forwardness. The black and white bouclé is quirky enough, but to pair it with a dusty pink leather front, that is cheeky and surprising.

Mr Pompilio is an unfamiliar name here so this may help amplify his standing: he cut his teeth with Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Prada, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent, just to list the more illustrious names. He is known as much for his urban-smart ready-to-wear (characterised by sportswear shapes—oh, that again!) as well as his quirky but immensely wearable footwear (notably for men). This is not his first collab with Onitsuka Tiger. In fact, if you count the upcoming spring/summer 2015, it would be his fifth season with the Jap co. We hope there are more to come.

Onitsuka Tiger x Andrea Pompilio Colorado Eighty Five Black Tweed, SGD199, is available at Onitsuka Tiger @ VivoCity. Artwork: Just So